At left, Temple's Jahad Thomas dances to daylight. Above, Charlotte's RB Kalif Phillips pulls away from the Owls' D. Both RBs had big nights.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
GOOD SHOW The immediate outlier to the power-5 leagues, the American Athletic Conference, got a chance to take center stage Friday night with three nationally televised games, and, really, didn’t disappoint. Not only did division leaders Temple and Memphis remain unbeaten with road wins at Charlotte and South Florida, respectively, but Connecticut, once again, proved that it can hang with anyone regardless of an anemic offense. Brigham Young held off the Huskies to get the victory, much the same as then-No. 22 Missouri did two weeks ago and AAC newcomer Navy did last week. But UConn is not far off, and if it ever needed an example, or two, of the benefits of hanging in there with building a program, Temple and Memphis fill the bill. Both former punchlines, they are a combined 9-0 this season, including 2-0 against power-5 programs.
FURTHER FOCUS Memphis, in particular, is a team to watch this season. Especially in two weeks, because the Tigers will host current No. 3 Ole Miss at the Liberty Bowl. Win that and we’re talking about having a legit run at a New Year’s Day bowl invite … if not more. The triggerman of the team’s offense, QB Paxton Lynch, is a special talent whose touch, smoothness and ability to run belie what you’d expect a 6-foot-7 human being could possess. The graceful big fella threw for 305 yards in Friday night’s win against South Florida – which just happened to mark the 12th straight victory for Memphis. After Ole Miss, Lynch and his teammates still would have some serious hurdles to clear, chief among them current unbeaten Navy, Temple and Houston – all of which are fellow AAC members.
TOUCH OF IRONY While Al Golden continues to get roasted in the court of public opinion by Miami fans, the Hurricanes coach’s former team, Temple, continues to thrive under the direction of his former assistant, Matt Rhule. In all honesty, Golden salvaged the Owls’ program from the scrap heap, pumped a little life into it, gave the administration some hope it could be a viable, sustainable entity of the university and, really, made the team’s current success possible. But he wasn’t capable of taking it to where Rhule has it headed, or even has it already. No doubt, there is incredible value to someone being able to get a program to a certain level. There also is a reality check for when that someone has limits on how far he can take that program. Miami is seeing that now.
FRESH FACE Not for nothing, but did anyone have newcomer Hayden Moore as an improvement over Gunner Kiel at QB for Cincinnati? With his awareness and ability to make every throw, seemingly in every conceivable situation, the Alabama native has made Kiel’s absence due to a vicious hit last week almost … OK. Since stepping in for Kiel, all Moore has done is rack up a school-record 559-yard passing performance in three quarters of action at Memphis and then lead the Bearcats to a victory against previously unblemished Miami on Thursday night. With hindsight, not so sure Temple upsets Cincy in Week 2 at Nippert Stadium if the kid was running the show instead of Kiel.
1. Consider this one a 'program win' If anything, the depth of Matt Rhule’s roster is what showed here. You can talk about missed opportunities in the first half all you want, but, reality is, the host 49ers played the unbeaten boys from Philly to a standstill until intermission, topping Temple in yardage 214-193 before the teams headed to the halftime break with the Owls up 10-3 … and then just had nothing left in the tank. While Temple continued to get contributions from starters and subs in the second half, Charlotte wilted, especially with defenders seeming to drop every other series. The Owls racked up 27 unanswered points in the final 30 minutes, including 20 in one electric 6:20 span that was highlighted by DB Nate L. Smith returning a blocked punt 16 yards for a score. Temple didn’t have the best player in this one. Charlotte RB Kalif Phillips (19 carries for 125 yards, 2 receptions for 41 yards), clearly, held that honor. Phillips’ teammate Brandon Dozier, a senior DB who posted a game-high 13 tackles, probably had the next best claim to that, too. But the Owls, at this point, have the better, deeper program … and it showed.
2. Put pressure on the QB, what's that? The disappearing act by the Owls’ pass rush that started immediately after the 10-sack opener back on Sept. 4 reached its climax in this one with Charlotte QB Lee McNeill failing to fall behind the line of scrimmage even once. Victory or not, this is a growing concern. A major one. With tonight’s sack shutout following single-sack efforts in wins at Cincinnati and Massachusetts, Temple’s lack of push up front and opponents’ success at scheming against the likes of DT Matt Ioannidis and blitzing LB Tyler Matakevich is quite obvious. If anyone wants to hang their hat on holding McNeil to just 113 yards on 27 passing attempts, that’s fine. Just be wary that the same outfit also gave up 223 rushing yards on 44 carries – which also highlights Temple’s lack of push up front and an opponents’ success at scheming against its defense. Yeah, the Owls are 4-0 now for the first time since 1974, but they’ve also been outgained in their last three games. It would be, say, “healthy” to alter that latter trend.
3. Kudos to Jahad Thomas After taking a pounding in a 25-carry, 66-yard effort two weeks ago vs. UMass, the Owls’ junior RB was brilliant once again – only in a more understated way. Rhule didn’t overuse him as the fear of that was starting to mount here. Backup Ryquell Armstead got some quality time, earning 43 yards on 11 carries and returning a couple kickoffs as well. Thomas, given more time to breathe, responded with 109 yards rushing and a game-high 48 yards receiving on three catches, showcasing his almost Fred Astaire-like dance moves in the process. The nine-play, 47-yard drive that actually covered 62 yards courtesy of a pass-interference call against Owls TE Colin Thompson and, essentially, signaled the end for Charlotte, well, Thomas accounted for every yard but four, finishing things off with his fifth rushing TD of the season, this one from a yard out with 9:42 remaining in the third quarter.
4. Aesthetics 101 The fashion sense is fine, but the material Temple has to work with anymore … meh. Sorry, it has to be said. While the partnership with Under Armour has produced some of the sweetest uniforms in all of college football the last half decade, what the Owls sport this season … well, it just ain’t getting it done in the looks department. The diamonds fading in and out on the jersey sleeves, pant legs and helmet stripes … huh? Vague historical reference or not being the reason for the change, they’re a swing and a miss. Tonight’s ensemble of white helmet (with cherry “T” logo, cherry and white candy-striping, and black grill), white jersey (with cherry numerals and lettering) and black pants (with cherry and white candy-striping down) did look good … like, for instance, two years ago when the Owls busted it out at Rutgers – along with the helmet having faded silver feathers blended in. The diamonds, which look more like dots anyway, just come across as bizarre, and forced. Of course, the Owls are unbeaten since wearing them.
5. Gulp Uh-oh, is that first chink in the special teams’ armor starting to show? Perhaps the wet, windy weather was a factor, but placekicker Austin Jones, who delivered the game-winner two weeks ago at UMass in the final seconds, missed a field-goal attempt AND an extra-point attempt. Yikes. Frankly, even on his makes, Jones just didn’t seem right. The Owls also got burned on a fake punt … with Charlotte ripping off a nine-yard gain on a fourth-and-two at its own 26 in the first quarter. Fortunately, the punting game was strong again, with Alex Starzyk averaging 44 yards on his three boots and Tyler Mayes getting off a 45-yarder as well. Smith’s TD return off Hasson Reddick’s block was the headliner for this unit’s efforts on this night, though. Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org