After USF thoroughly dominated the Cincinnati Bearcats last night, the Temple Owls now have the outcome of their season resting in their hands.
With the Bulls emphatic 65-27 win, the Owls must win today against Memphis in order keep the hope of a conference championship game in contention. With a loss, USF would take the Eastern Division away from Temple.
The Owls will have to accomplish this task against one of the highest-flying teams in the country, the Memphis Tigers. After Memphis’ torrid 8-0 start that featured wins over Ole Miss and Kansas, the Tigers have dropped two straight at the hands of Navy and Houston. Eliminated, from the AAC West race, all that is left for them to play spoiler.
Memphis certainly has the talent to put the Owls away. The Owls have allowed over 40 points in each of the last two games, to SMU and USF. That doesn’t bode well against a Memphis team that is averaging 42 points per game, coming in at sixth in the country. 6’7 quarterback Paxton Lynch can see over any defense, as he has tossed 21 touchdowns opposed to only three interceptions. He has no shortage of weapons either, with five receivers that have caught at least 20 passes.
However, Memphis’ deep running attack poses a significant threat to the Owls. The Tigers boast four running backs who have rushed for at least 290 this season, with a combined 22 touchdowns in that group. Last week Marlon Mack tore apart the Owls, rushing for 230 yards and three total touchdowns.
Now is the time for the senior leaders to show what they’re all about. Tyler Matakevich, who needs only four tackles to reach 100, Matt Ioannidis, and Tavon Young have to prove that they can contain a high caliber offense-they’ll have to in order have a shot today.
While Memphis will trot out a prolific offense, their defense will not take the Owls by storm. In their last five contests, Memphis has allowed over 30 points per game. The offense will still sorely miss center Kyle Friend, but holes in the Tigers defense will facilitate big play opportunities. Tulsa’s Keyarris Garrett tallied 268 receiving yards and three scores, while just last week Houston’s Demarcus Ayers tallied 127 receiving yards. With tall, play-making receivers like Robby Anderson and Ventell Bryant, P.J. Walker should find room to make some big plays against a defense that is allowing 433 yards per game. His last meeting with the Tigers saw him complete only 43% of his passes with an interception. However, Walker has looked much improved throughout the year. He will have to be effective and limit mistakes this afternoon.
When Memphis faced a triple-option attack against Navy, they were out of their element, allowing 374 rushing yards. 1,000-yard rusher Jahad Thomas will look to get plays in open space and add to his 17 total touchdowns.
When Temple took on Memphis at the Linc last year, the Tigers squeaked out a 16-13 victory under the lights. In 2014, Lynch showed the same poise he has shown throughout this year. He engineered a game winning drive that lead to a field goal as time expired. The Owls slowed Lynch down last year, but couldn’t quite seal the deal. They’ll need to take one step further, with even bigger implications on the line, this time around.