First Look: Temple

ECU's week-eight matchup with conference foe features one of the conference's most dangerous offenses squaring off with one of the nation's top defenses.

Sloppy conditions fueled by Philadelphia’s messy November weather ultimately doomed the Pirates against Temple last season. This season, however, East Carolina will have the added advantage of hosting its conference foe in its late-October matchup.

Five fumbles was the ultimate back breaker for the Pirates the last time the two teams met and a lack of offensive production because of it ultimately allowed Temple to knock the No.21 Pirates out of the top-25.

Most of East Carolina’s players probably haven’t forgotten that game. It was a painstakingly ugly performance that not only snapped a five-game winning streak but sent the Pirates spiraling down the stretch, losing three out of five to end the season.

Redemption will likely be at the forefront of the minds for this season’s Pirates on what will be a national televised, Oct. 22 event.

Second year head coach Matt Rhule will look to build off of a successful 6-6 campaign during his inaugural season, highlighted by wins over ECU and Vanderbilt thanks to one of the nation’s most tenacious defenses.

The ninth youngest FBS head coach in the nation, Rhule will have the benefit of leaning his team’s offensive success on junior signal caller P.J. Walker.

Since taking the reigns of the Owls’ offense during his freshman season, Walker has helped pioneer a quietly dangerous Temple attack. His 2014 campaign included 2,317 passing yards, 324 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns.

However, his 15 interceptions, combined with Temple’s lack of success in the rushing game ultimately outweighed his production.

Walker led the Owls with 106 rushing attempts and though he plays in an offense that relies on quarterbacks being able to run, no Temple player averaged more than 32 rushing yards per game. All said, Temple finished the season averaging a mediocre 107.75 rushing yards per contest.

Jahad Thomas, last season’s leading rusher with 384 yards, returns as a junior this season. Kenneth Harper, who had a team-high five rushing touchdowns last season, is now gone leaving Thomas as the most capable rusher on the team and the likely starter.

Offense isn’t Temple’s strength, though. A staunch defense, one of the conference’s best in fact, has been, and will likely remain, the catalyst for success.

Last season, the Owls held their opponents to just 17.5 points per game, good for fourth in the nation. They were especially effective defending the pass, making life difficult on pass-heavy teams like the Pirates.

Opposing offenses averaged just 186.92 yards through the air a season ago and the Owls held their opponents to an impressive nine passing touchdowns total on the year.

All 11 starters from last season’s defense return but are more important than the senior linebacker anchoring the defense, Tyler Matakevich.

All-conference linebacker and team-captain, Matakevich leads the impressive Temple defense and became just the third Owl ever to record 100 or more tackles in three straight seasons. The now-senior linebacker also had his best game of the season, and perhaps one the finest performances of his impressive college career against ECU last season, recording 16 tackles and recovering a fumble.

Senior linebacker Nate Smith lines up next to Matakevich and finished behind his position mate with 71 tackles, good for second on the team last season despite missing time with an injured hamstring.

Smith and Matakevich comprise one of the fiercest linebacking units in the country and will likely continue to lead the team both on and off the field.

Backing the leading tacklers is sophomore defensive back Sean Chandler who, as a freshman, finished third on the team with 65 tackles. His impressive first season with the Owls also saw him contribute with nine passes defended and an interception.

The game is shaping up to be a battle of strengths with ECU’s traditionally high-scoring offense against one of the best defenses in the conference and in the nation. Sloppy weather played right into the hands of the Owls last season but revenge and a friendly venue will only help the Pirates this time around.

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