TRAP GAME Temple isn’t the only American Athletic Conference unbeaten playing with fire this week. When top dog Memphis visits Tulsa it’ll be taking on a more potent offense than its own, which is hard to believe considering the Tigers put up 533 yards per game. But Tulsa averages 550. They also happened to have taken then-No. 16 Oklahoma to the limit at its own house before falling in the final minutes 52-38. Memphis QB Paxton Lynch may be finding his way to the Heisman coronation in December, yet his numbers are matched by Tulsa’s Dane Evans. The Tigers’ likely saving grace in this one? The Hurricane D is horrific, allowing 525 yards and 34.8 points per game. ROARING ALONG This may not be the year Penn State was hoping to have, but, wow, has senior DE Carl Nassib been a dominate force for the Nittany Lions. The 6-foot-7, 272-pounder currently leads all FBS defenders with 11.5 sacks among his 35 tackles. Not bad for a former walk-on who was nothing more than a bit player for PSU until exploding on the scene this season. Nassib’s consistency is as impressive as his numbers, since the big fella has recorded at least 1 sack in every game thus far. In short order, he has gone from unknown to probably NFL draft pick. EXPERT SPEAKS Former Michigan coach-turned-radio sportstalker Brady Hoke was only too happy to share his thoughts on Jim Harbaugh’s decision to punt with 10 seconds remaining, the Wolverines facing fourth down at the Michigan State 47 and leading 23-21, stating that he wouldn’t have done so. That he would have left it up to his defense to stop the Spartans. Granted, Hoke’s words may have a hint of bitterness to them, but his premise is sound, considering Michigan’s defense ranks among the best in the country. But he’s full of it. He would have done the same thing as Harbaugh and called for a punt. THAT'S THE TICKET It’s not looking like a banner weekend at the box office as only two games currently are garnering triple-digits for seats, according to StubHub. The top one is Tennessee at No. 8 Alabama, which has tickets starting at $157. Up next is No. 9 Florida State at Georgia Tech ($101). Frankly, this ain’t a bad week to get out to a stadium and see a game for those who usually deem them to expensive. Consider this: you could see Washington at No. 10 Stanford for just 24 bucks.
Temple QB P.J. Walker (11) had the worst game of his collegiate career while facing East Carolina last season, compiling just a combined 78 yards passing and rushing.
Temple’s What 2 Watch vs. East Carolina DOWDY-FICKLEN STADIUM, TONIGHT, 7, ESPN2, 97.5 FM THE FANATIC
1. Sh!t just got REAL Beating Penn State in the opener was long overdue and absolutely awesome for the Owls’ program, and, frankly, surviving in Cincinnati may have been even better. But, funny thing is, you begin these seasons going through the schedule and rationalizing how your team can win this game and that game and the next … until it’s unbeaten by the end of the season – something Temple, for one, has never achieved. Yet, here it is, halfway through the season and the Owls are ranked for the first time since January of 1980 and – gulp – sporting a spotless record with an opportunity to start a season 7-0 for the first time ever. Umm, that’s pretty big stuff, even for a group of kids who have grown and matured under the truly wonderful, positive-reinforcement, motivational machine named Matt Rhule. The real danger in all this is that the American Athletic Conference rival Pirates are pretty damn good. Yeah, they’re “just” 4-3, but they easily could be 6-1 – and probably ranked themselves – had they not gassed late in games at Florida and Brigham Young. Only Navy, another pretty damn good AAC squad, “handled” ECU this season. In Annapolis. That’s a key point to factor in this one: ECU is home, in Greenville, N.C., where it is incredibly loud and the Pirates are most dangerous. They already took out Power-5 school Virginia Tech there this season. From here on, as long as this unbeaten stuff goes for Temple, the stakes are just going to get higher and the stage bigger. This will be a great test to see if the Owls are up for that, or not. It probably doesn’t help that Temple knocked ECU from the national rankings 11 months ago by registering a rain-soaked, 20-10 upset at Lincoln Financial Field. Revenge and all, with a blacked-out, sold-out crowd of 50K-plus certain to remind its Pirates of that at every juncture in this one. Temple being a 3-point underdog is NOT a sign of disrespect to it.
2. Time to open it up The emergence of RB Jahad Thomas into not only a starter, but a full-fledged star has been a revelation to Temple and probably taken it to another level quicker than even its head coach, Rhule, had hoped. Without him, the Owls, flat out, do not beat Penn State or Cincinnati … and probably not even winless Central Florida this past Saturday when they seemed to need every one of his career-best 199 yards rushing to escape disaster. Thing is, as great as he’s been, and at times he’s been as good a player as there has been in the country, Temple is not going to remain unbeaten OR ranked much longer unless Rhule and his staff take the shackles off QB P.J. Walker. Those wondrous athletic talents of his that electrified the Owls at times two years ago, the ones that have been stashed away as Rhule opted for a more conservative route offensively last year and this one, will be needed this week, next week against Notre Dame and next month vs. Memphis for Temple to have any chance at keeping this amazing stretch rolling along. A bomb or two to Robby Anderson would be a nice way to open things up, but giving Walker the green light to use his legs might be even better.
3. Pass rush ... what's that? After one game, the Owls had 10 sacks. After six, they now have 16. Sorry, but that stinks. Frankly, it’s pathetic. There is no denying how stingy the Temple D has been in allowing yards and points this season, ranking among the nation’s top 20 in both categories, but it hasn’t exactly supercharged the offense with forced turnovers or incredible field position, two typical things associated with a good pass rush. Truth is, the Owls are stepping way up in class with the offense they’ll be facing in ECU, which throws for 287 yards per game and runs for 146. Starting QB Blake Kemp is a good one, completing better than 70 percent of his attempts. His backup, James Summers, may be even better because he’s Walker-like with his skill set, able to throw or run. Check with Virginia Tech about that, since he blistered the Hokies for 110 yards and a TD through the air and 169 yards and two TDs on the ground after relieving Kemp in the second quarter. Temple must, MUST, get pressure on whichever one of these guys happens to be in the game at any time. Sitting back, and either getting picked apart by Kemp or run right past by Summers, probably ain’t going to cut it.
4. Supporting actor needs to star Could be anyone, really. The spindly, speedy Anderson seems to be tabbed by most each week as the one ready to break out, but that hasn’t happened yet. There are plenty of other options, even at the WR spot with Ventell Bryant or even glue-guy John Christopher, who has added throwing passes to Walker to his do-everything arsenal. TE Colin Thompson, the top-rated player at his position coming out of high school years ago, has yet to really leave his mark for Temple, and this would be a nice spot to do it. Just seems that the guy most equipped to really make a splash is Ryquell Armstead, the bullish but fast backup to Thomas at RB. The freshman has shown some flashes of toughness and explosiveness that make Temple fans able to breathe when Thomas takes a break. Frankly, he gives the appearance, both in physical stature and style of play, that screams “feature back” himself. Should he undertake that role in this one, do not be surprised. Also don’t be surprised if that would spark a Temple victory.
5. All-American needs to be All-Pro LB Tyler Matakevich has been a fantastic player for Temple ever since getting on the field as a freshman. A tackling dynamo right out of the chute, he has evolved into a more complete player, especially in a leadership capacity and in a big-play way. Perhaps no game has his performance been more needed to elevate, though, than this one. With that two-headed monster at QB and a quality RB in Chris Hairston, ECU presents an awful lot of problems for any defense, even one as statistically strong as what Matakevich and Co. have proven to be in 2015. In this one, a nice, 8-tackle, 1-forced turnover effort might not cover it. T-Mat may be required to go nuts, rack up a ton of tackles, maybe even challenge his school-record 24 against Idaho two years ago. Or, say, another 3-sack game. Whatever the deal is, as the team’s best defender, he needs to dominate in this game. That’s the best way of all he could lead.