Temple’s Halloween matchup against Notre Dame was hailed as the biggest game in program history.
Tonight, Temple play arguably their most crucial game this entire season.
With a win tonight over AAC opponent UConn (6-5), #25 Temple would secure a spot in the inaugural AAC Championship game as the winner of the Eastern Division. After USF win Thursday night, an Owls loss would mean the end of their season, and would send the Bulls down to Houston for the championship game.
After getting blown out by USF two weeks ago, Temple returned to their winning ways. They dominated #21 Memphis at the Linc, winning 31-12. Tigers’ QB Paxton Lynch kept in check all day, as the defense did not allow the Tigers into the the end zone for the first time this year. After an early interception, P.J. Walker bounced back and was phenomenal, throwing for two touchdowns while converting key third downs in the second half.
UConn comes in as a very similar opponent. The Huskies are a defensive team, allowing only 19.1 points per game. They also have the ability to flip the field, forcing four turnovers last week against Houston. UConn has also picked off opposing quarterbacks 17 times this year. Sophomore Jamar Summers leads the secondary with seven picks on the year, one of which he took back to the house. UConn has also forced 19 fumbles on the year. This could pose problems for the Owls, had a fumble and an interception on their first two drives last week. A repeat of that performance could put them in a hole they can’t climb out of.
Much like the Owls, the Huskies are a ground and pound team. They are rushing for an average 135 yards per game. The attack is led by Arkeel Newsome, who has just under 800 rushing yards this season and is averaging 4.7 yards per carry with six touchdowns. He is also second on the team with 38 catches and 436 receiving yards. In last week’s upset of Houston, Newsome got the ball 32 times and grinded out 132 yards. This approach led to UConn dominating the time of possession battle by almost 10 minutes, a key reason they were able to defeat the AAC West’s representative in the AAC Championship.
Temple comes in controlling their own destiny behind the will of the defense. After allowing 40+ points in back to backs game, Tyler Matakevich and company found their groove again against Memphis. They stuffed the Tigers for only 76 rushing yards and limited Lynch to only 156 passing yards. The defense was swarming all day, as receivers averaged only six yards per catch. With Matakevich recording his fourth straight 100 tackle season, it will be up to the defense to keep the game in Temple’s favor.
The Owls have a favorable matchup against a Huskies defense that is allowing 165 rush yards per game.
Last week, Temple showed their depth at the halfback position. Freshman David Hood took over for a struggling Jahad Thomas, and finished the day with 61 yards and a touchdown. Jager Gardner also got 12 carries against the Tigers, as the Owls finished with 200 yards on the ground. This will be crucial for the Owls against a stingy UConn pass defense that his holding opposing QBs to under 200 passing yards per game.
The Huskies have no trouble taking down the QB either. Linebacker Luke Carrezola leads the team with 6 sacks, while defensive lineman Foley Fatukast is right behind him with 5.5. The offensive line protected Walker last week, allowing zero sacks, and will have to do the same. The Junior QB showed poise and skill all afternoon against Memphis, throwing for 261 yards while rushing for 49. More importantly, he managed the clock and was smart, keeping the ball in the hands of the offense for almost 10 more minutes.
Senior Night for the Owls means Matkevich, Tavon Young and Matt Ioaniddis will be playing in front of the Temple faithful for the last time. With a chance to secure a spot in the championship, they will not be letting this go easy.