Temple Football’s 2016 season has come down to just one game, as the Owls plan to hoist the AAC East division trophy on Lincoln Financial Field for the second straight season. The Owls will welcome the East Carolina Pirates (3-8, 1-6) Saturday at 7:30pm. With the season on the line, here are match-ups to watch for in the conference showdown:
ECU Air Attack vs. Stout Temple Secondary
East Carolina will come into the game with the 5th ranked pass offense in the nation, largely due to the duo of quarterback Phillip Nelson and record setting wide receiver Zay Jones.
In the Pirates 66-31 loss to Navy last week, Jones caught 12 passes and set the NCAA career receptions record with 392.
Jones, a senior wideout, has “quietly put together one of the most prolific seasons by a wide receiver in college football history,” according to Michael Weinreb of Bleacher Report in a recent feature story. He has 48 more receptions than any other FBS receiver in the country, and over 300 yards more than Oklahoma’s second place Dede Westbrook. Jones is currently the front runner, and one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff award, given to the nations top wide receiver.
Trying to slow down this passing game will be the second ranked pass defense in the nation, as Temple’s 142.6 pass yards allowed per game trails only #3 Michigan.
The owls secondary unit has held 8 of 10 quarterbacks faced this year under 200 yards passing, and have allowed just 10 passing touchdowns. Only 11 FBS teams in the nation have surrendered less passing touchdowns this season. Back to back shutouts for Temple’s defense have made things especially easy for OC Glenn Thomas and his offense.
Temple Offense vs. Dismal ECU Defense
Owls halfback Jahad Thomas trails only ECU’s Zay Jones in all purpose yards per game, and has 2 touchdowns in 8 of 9 games he’s played in this season. With 35 career rushing touchdowns, it trails only Bernard Pierce and Paul Palmer in Temple’s record books. The spark provided from Thomas has propelled a resurgent Temple offense that’s averaging 466.0 yards per game in its last 5 games.
Quarterback Phillip Walker has also been efficient, and he’s coming off of a 337 yard, 2 touchdown performance against Tulane. Walker’s favorite target as of late has been sophomore Ventell Bryant, who set career highs in catches (9) and receiving yards (168) last week. Bryant now has 32 receptions for 595 yards and 2 TD’s in the past 6 games, and 27 of his receptions have gone for first downs.
The East Carolina defense ranks above only USF in the AAC, allowing an average of 456.3 yards of offense per game. The unit also boasts conference-worsts in touchdowns (46) and rush yards allowed per game (226.0). Despite such a prominent offensive attack, ECU has dropped 8 of its last 9 games largely due to defensive deficiencies.