On Senior and Military Appreciation nights, the Temple Owls (8-3, 6-1 1st Place AAC East) welcome the East Carolina Pirates (3-8, 1-6, 4th Place Tiebreaker) for the last regular season home game of 2016. It is a win and you are in the AAC Title game situation for Temple, unless UCF upsets USF earlier in the day, in which case they are in regardless.
Temple is coming into this game riding a 10 qtr shut out streak, beating Tulane last week 31-0. ECU though leading early, succumbed to Navy last week, 66-31.
ECU holds the All Time edge 8-5, with Temple winning their last meeting 24-14 down in NC, rallying to take a final lead with a bit over 3 minutes left, to keep their top 25 ranking intact.
The Owls once again come in as heavy favorites – 2 – 3 TDs – and on an emotional night for the Seniors in front of what my be a sparse holiday weekend crowd, they will have to keep the 1-0 mantra working to avoid the upset by a potent ECU offense. It will be hard not to look ahead to next week’s likely trip down to Annapolis, unless Navy loses to SMU also earlier on Saturday. By game time Temple will know what it has to do.
“It means a lot,” SR QB Phillip Walker said earlier this week, speaking about senior night. “There is so much I have been through here and it will be exciting to me. . . . I will try to control my emotions, try to relax and get back to it being a regular game.”
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” SR LB Avery Williams said. “It probably will hit me when the day comes, but right now I am just preparing for East Carolina.”
“I am really grateful to these kids, and if you are grateful, I want to make sure I do my job and give them every opportunity to win this game,” Head Coach Matt Rhule said. “It is the last time they will walk off this field playing here and I want them to walk off as winners.”
ECU is lead by SO QB Gardner Minshew (98-168 passing, 58.3 percent, 1,164 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INT), but their main weapon is SR WR Zay Jones (151 receptions, 1,685 yards, 8 TDs) who last week became the all-time FBS leader in receptions with 392, surpassing the old mark of 387 by former ECU WR Justin Hardy, now with the Atlanta Falcons. He is also four receptions away from the FBS single-season reception mark of 155 set by Freddie Barnes of Bowling Green in 2009.
“He is a big kid who can run, has tremendous body control, but the big thing about him is he is also really competitive,” said Rhule. “You watch him block and he blocks, so I think he is a talented kid who is extremely competitive.”
Their leading rusher is SR RB James Summers (817 yards rushing, 5.7 avg., 7 TDs).He has amassed 572 yards (95.3 ypg.) in his last six games on 97 carries and has scored a rushing TD in his last four.
The Pirates are first in the AAC in passing offense, averaging 348.5 yards and third in total offense, averaging 489.1 yards per game so Temple will have it’s hands full keeping their defensive shut out streak alive.
The Pirates defense had been it’s weak link. They have only 8 sacks all season – by comparison, the Owls Hassan Reddick alone has 9.5, and the team has 33. Their leading tackler is JR LB Jordan Williams (76 tackles) with fellow LB’s SR LB Dayon Pratt (58 tackles, 7.5 TFL) and SO LB Yiannis Boden (42 tackles, 7.5 TFL) also in the mix.
While I do not see the Owls defensive scoreless streak lasting long in this one, I do see Temple taking care of business, picking apart the weak ECU defense and outscoring the Pirates in the end. Temple 35-14
TV: ESPNews PBP Alex Faust, Analyst Kevin Weidl
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic PBP Harry Donahue, Analyst Paul Palmer, Sidelines Harry Mayes
Student Radio: WHIP: PBP Greg Frank, Analyst John Cole
Live Stats: www.sidearmstats.com/temple/football
I will once again be in the Lincoln Financial Field Press Box to cover this one, and live tweeting as @pattisonavenue on twitter.