There’s no time to exhale for the Owls.
After pulling off a near-impossible comeback against UCF last week, Temple will play its toughest conference opponent yet when it faces USF at Lincoln Financial Field on Friday night.
Heading into the game at 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the AAC, this game already has conference championship and bowl game implications for Temple.
The Bulls' offense ran all over the Owls during USF’s 44-23 victory when the teams met in Tampa last season. USF currently sits one game ahead of Temple at 3-0 in the AAC.
Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:
The Owls’ offense has struggled to find consistency this season. Temple ranks 91st in the FBS in total offense, averaging 378 yards per game.
Coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas will likely try to find ways to get the ball in senior running back Jahad Thomas’ hands on Friday. Since returning from injury against Penn State on Sept. 17, Thomas has scored two total touchdowns in every game. He has 357 yards rushing and seven rushing touchdowns in addition to 251 yards receiving and three touchdown catches. Sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead has complemented Thomas nicely with 403 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
Giving up big plays has been the Achilles’ heel of Temple’s defense in 2016. The Owls have given up six touchdowns of 50 or more yards from scrimmage and a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown. UCF had two touchdowns of 50-plus yards last week.
Other than the long scores, Temple’s defense has been solid, holding opponents to 316.6 yards per game, which ranks 17th in the FBS. Redshirt senior defensive end Haason Reddick has been the Owls’ defensive star. He leads the team with 35 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 6½ sacks.
It doesn’t get much better than USF’s backfield combo of junior quarterback Quinton Flowers andt junior running back Marlon Mack.
Flowers and Mack lead a Bulls’ offense that ranks eighth in both scoring offense and rushing offense. The two combined for 550 total yards and five touchdowns in last year’s victory over the Owls. Last week, Flowers threw for 213 yards, ran for 153 yards and totaled five touchdowns in a 42-27 win over UConn. Rodney Adams has been Flowers’ favorite target through the air this season. Adams has 32 catches for 459 yards and four touchdowns.
USF’s defense is giving up almost 26 points per game. The Bulls have held opponents to fewer than 20 points just once this season. At the same time, they’ve only given up more than 27 points once this season, and that was when No. 13 Florida State lit USF up for 55 points. Junior linebacker Auggie Sanchez has 65 tackles, eight tackles for loss and six sacks. Senior linebacker Nigel Harris leads the team with two interceptions.
Storyline to watch: Can Temple’s defense contain a running quarterback?
UCF freshman McKenzie Milton broke off a 63-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper last week. Quarterbacks like Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, SMU’s Matt Davis and Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. gave the Owls problems by running the ball last season. Flowers is a special player who will once again challenge Temple with his arm and his legs. He threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 90 more yards and another score against Temple last season. If the Owls can find a way to shut down Flowers, they’ll give themselves a good shot to win the game.
What’s at stake: A trip to the conference championship?
After only three conference games, that might seem a little far-fetched. However, after last week’s win over UCF and a win on Friday, Temple would have tiebreakers over the only teams with fewer than two losses in the AAC East Division. A loss to the Bulls would give Temple two conference losses, meaning USF would likely have to lose three times for Temple to win the East, even if the Owls won all their remaining games.
South Florida’s offense looks poised to give Temple trouble once again, but the Owls have kept it close in every game this season. Flowers and Mack are too much for another Temple comeback. USF 31, Temple 20.
As Washington running back Matt Jones made a quick cut to head upfield for a 57-yard gain late in the fourth quarter on Sunday, linebacker Jordan Hicks, after he over-pursued and couldn’t make a diving play to recover, ended up face down, grasping for where Jones used to be.
That play on third down wrapped up the win for Washington.
A fitting end for an Eagles defense that had trouble tackling throughout the long afternoon at FedEx Field.
“When you shoot your gun, you've got to hit,” Hicks said on Thursday. “You can't miss.”
The Eagles missed plenty during their 27-20 loss to Washington. Missed tackles, seemingly out of nowhere, became a huge issue last week.
In all, according to ProFootballFocus, the Eagles missed 10 tackles on Sunday. And Washington picked up 156 yards after contact.
Coming into the week, the Eagles had missed just eight tackles and had given up just 149 yards after contact all year.
“We're at this point in the season where you're going up against these guys and your body might feel a certain way or whatever, but there are no excuses at this point,” Hicks said. “We understand that. We've worked a lot on tackling. We have really this whole time. So it's obviously a point of emphasis from the past two games. It's definitely something we have to correct.”
So the simple question is this: How do you fix missed tackles?
The answer isn’t so simple. Safety Malcolm Jenkins explained that once teams get into their seasons, they really don’t practice tackling anymore, especially with defensive backs. They’re more concerned with installing that week’s game plan and learning coverages.
Jenkins said linebackers practice tackling during the week some, but if defensive backs want to practice tackling, they have to do it on their own after the team practice is over.
While the tackling itself was bad on Sunday, there was a problem that led to the problem: bad angles.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said his players took too many bad angles to the ball, which makes it much more difficult to tackle. Hicks agreed, saying the effort was there, but the bad angles made things tough.
Perhaps the effort went a little too far.
“I think the other part of it in this [last] game, and again, one of our failures in this [last] game, is we let one play affect the next,” Schwartz said. “I think in the first three games, even parts of the Detroit game, we didn't let a bad play affect our next play. I referenced one of the toss sweeps, we were short on the block and then on the next play, we came up and everybody overran it and the ball cut all the way back on us.
“In other words, we over-corrected and guys were trying — rather than just doing their job, the old adage in the NFL is, ‘Do your job,’ and we got guilty of trying to cover up and do a little too much. They need to just concentrate on theirs and [make] good tackles.”
When asked on Thursday, Schwartz was critical of his defense and himself (see story). The Eagles gave up 230 yards on the ground and 493 yards total — by far their highest totals of the season.
And a lot of it was just not getting Washington players down when they had the chance.
“I think that needs to be fixed and we will fix it,” Fletcher Cox said. “We've just got to calm down and just play ball. You've got guys coming full speed at a ball carrier and of course sometimes they're going to whiff, but the second guy has to be there to get the guy on the ground.”
The good news for the Eagles is that the Vikings have been the worst rushing offense in the NFL through their first five games, averaging 2.5 yards per attempt. But Schwartz joked that after watching the Eagles’ film against Washington, the Vikings will try to run 65 times on Sunday.
They likely won't do that, but Minnesota will probably be happy to test the Eagles’ run defense on Sunday.
If the Eagles want to win, they’ll have to cut down on those pesky missed tackles.
“You just get back to work, man,” WILL linebacker Mychal Kendricks said. “I just think it was one of those games where he was just slipping off. We have some of the best tacklers on this team and we were missing tackles. It's as simple as that. I think we just get back to work, get back to the fundamentals and basics and handle our business.”