One of the nation’s best prognosticators, Kyle Hunter, of Kyle Hunter’s picks, had this reaction when I told him Temple hasn’t punted in the last two weeks.
“That’s a fantastic stat, Mike, love it,” Hunter said. “E.J. Warner. You can’t stop him. You can only hope to contain him, apparently.”
Temple had gone 134 years punting at least once in every game. The only exception was the 110-0 win over Blue Ridge in 1927. A lot of the credit for this little bit of significant Temple football history goes to a true freshman quarterback, E.J. Warner.
“You can’t stop him. You can only hope to contain him.”
Yeah, I know it’s a line borrowed from Michael Jordan’s days with the Chicago Bulls, but it has applied for the last two weeks.
Suppose it does so again tomorrow (4 p.m. start, ESPN U) against Cincinnati. In that case, Temple will have officially returned to relevance on the national college football scene because it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Owls don’t punt and lose to the Bearcats.
That’s because the Bearcats don’t generate much offense on their end and, in six AAC games, haven’t been able to get the kind of separation from league foes that teams like Memphis (37-13 over Navy), ECU (34-13 over UCF), SMU (77-63 over Houston) and Houston (38-20 over Navy) have done.
Even though the Bearcats are still in contention for the AAC title, their largest margin of victory was by 10 against Tulsa and Navy. They toughed out a 28-24 win over a USF team that Temple hung a 54-burger on in a 54-28 win. To their credit, they were able to beat a Navy team, 20-10, at home after the Owls lost to the same team on the road in overtime.
Considering all that, a 17-point predicted spread seems a little high and most of the smart money agrees.
On a cold, blustery day that doesn’t figure to get out of the 30s, Temple has a puncher’s chance. Cincinnati quarterback Ben Bryant is no more than a game manager and his downfield passing is suspect. Last week, he was only 1 for 8 in passes over 15 yards. He doesn’t have the mobility of Houston’s Clayton Tune and he’s the kind of stationary pocket passer the Owls’ defense thrives against.
On offense, no one expects the Owls to go puntless but just by moving the ball, they can certainly stay in this one. They have to prove that after a month of producing only around 10 points a game their 54- and 36-point outbursts of the last two weeks represent the lightbulb going on over the offensive coaching staff’s heads and not consecutive outliers bulking a season-long trend.
Defensively, they will have to do a much better job against the running game than they did in their last home game, a 27-16 loss to Tulsa. They will have to get to Bryant, put him on his backside, strip him of the ball or force tipped interceptions. Relentless pressure is Job One.
Head coach Stan Drayton stood in front of the team earlier this week and told them they will be champions. Not this year, but soon. Temple can either let the close losses to Navy, Houston and Rutgers that kept it out of a bowl game fester or it can push forward to let the rest of the world know Drayton was right in his hunch.
That’s because, unlike Temple, Cincinnati will be in a bowl game this year and Temple has a chance to show by winning it can beat a bowl team now, not later. So this is the Owls’ Super Bowl.
Drayton asked the Owls to eliminate the things “that are slowing us down” earlier this week.
The team responded, “yes, sir.” Words are nice. Deeds are nicer. The Owls have a very good chance of turning those words into deeds by no later than 7 p.m. tomorrow.
If they do, they will send a clear message to the rest of the college football world that Temple football is back now instead of some sort of theoretical championship future their head coach envisions.
Late Saturday Night: Game Analysis