Temple Owls @ Houston Cougars for the Inaugural AAC Championship Game.
Way back at the start of Spring practice, through the Cherry and White game, through that eye-opening upset of Penn State to start the season, and the rest of this historic year, the chance to play in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game, had to be one of the goals the #22 Temple Owls (10-2, 7-1) set for themselves. “It’s just an amazing feeling,”All Everything (including newly minted AAC Defensive POTY) SR LB Tyler Matakevich said after the victory over UConn that got them to this point. “But you can’t be satisfied. We’re in the championship game, but we didn’t work hard all year just to get there. You want to win it.”
To do that they will face what has been a problem for them this year, a mobile QB in the #19 Houston Cougars‘ (11-1,7-1) Greg Ward who has amassed 2,502 yards,16 tds through the air and 893 yards, 17 touchdowns w/ his feet. Even though Temple did not face them this season, the 20+ Seniors on this team know him well as he threw for 268 yards and two scores during the 31-10 win over Temple in October 2014. “The biggest problem with an offense like [Houston’s] is when you have a quarterback like Greg Ward , who’s not only athletic and mobile, but can also throw the ball,” SR LB Matt Ioannidis said. “He’s got a strong arm and makes good reads. So that’s the biggest thing. He powers that offense and that will be a big task on Saturday to try and contain him.” Ward’s main receiving weapon is WR Demarcus Ayers, 5-11, 190 Jr. (89 receptions, 1,140 yards, 6 TDs, 12.0 punt return avg.). Houston’s leading rusher is Kenneth Farrow, 5-10, 220 Sr. (949 yards rushing, 5.2 avg., 12 TDs), though he has been fighting a high ankle sprain which kept him out of last week’s win over Navy. If he cannot go two way CB/RB Brandon Wilson would take his place. He had 111 yds and two TDs last week.
The Cougars have not lost a home game since 11/21/14, beating opponents by an average of 21.9 points while scoring an average of 44.9 points. Their 42 points per game this season is eighth most in the nation.
That being said the Temple D, who lead the AAC in scoring defense (18.8), total defense (328.7), rushing defense (117.3), pass efficiency defense (109.23), 3rd down conversion pct. defense (30.9) and tackles for loss (8.2 per game), has been on an upswing holding Memphis, and their highly touted QB Paxton Lynch, and then UConn’s rotating QBs w/o a Touchdown the last two games. And their offense though not always pretty, has done enough to win, to complement the smothering defense.
The Owls come in as a near TD underdog but that has not meant much to them this season, and they at least talk as if they are keeping their eye on the prize being that AAC Trophy and a shot at either of the New Year’s Six bowls in the Fiesta Bowl (University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona NYD) or what seems more likely the Peach Bowl (Georgia Dome in Atlanta NYE), not to mention their 1st ever 11 win season. “Don’t let all these distractions get to us,” Matakevich said “It’s another game. A little bigger stage, but it’s another game. It’s what’s next.”, or as Owls QB P. J. Walker put it “Houston is our No. 1 distraction this week.”
American Athletic title game: Noon Saturday, TDECU Stadium, Houston (40,000)
TV: 6ABC (Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman, Todd McShay)
Radio: The Fanatic-97.5 FM (Harry Donohue, Paul Palmer, Harry Mayes)
Student broadcast: WHIP (Zach Gelb, Michael Zahn, Carly Mascitti)
Forecast: sunny, mid-60s