Shawn Pastor: The biggest factor in this year's success is the development of Temple's offense, which now complements the stalwart defense that established its identity last year, and continues to impress. In particular, three things have happened for the Owls on offense: 1) Jahad Thomas has emerged as both a big-play threat and an every-down back, 2) The offensive line has made steady improvement after injuries and youth made them average-at-best last season, and 3) Wide receiver Robby Anderson has returned after missing the 2014 campaign due to academics, and the entire receiving corps is just much, much better. All of the above has allowed P.J. Walker to find his place nicely in a multi-faceted offense, which is light years better than last season, when Walker had few quality options and pushed the envelope too many times trying to make things happen on his own.
Temple has boasted a top 25 defense all season long and have held opponents to only 18.4 ppg. What in particular does Phil Snow's unit excel in that gives opposing offenses a rough time?
SP: It sounds very basic, but the Owls simply don't make a lot of mistakes on defense. They have three-year and four-year starters at several spots, which allows Snow to run all manner of zone coverage and blitz schemes without worrying about busted assignments. It helps that cornerbacks Tavon Young and Sean Chandler can handle themselves against almost any receiver. The Owls are particularly strong at defensive tackle, while the ends are undersized but very athletic. They do a very good job disguising their coverages and blitzes, which has helped them generate a league-high 15 interceptions. And nobody in America plays harder or smarter than linebacker Tyler Matakevich.
In his first full season as a starter, Jahad Thomas leads the AAC in rushing and is on verge of being the first player at Temple to crack 1,000 yards since 2012. Is his sudden emergence a pleasant surprise or something that people within the program expected all along.
SP: It's fair to say that nobody expected Thomas to emerge as a 1,000-yard back this season. In fact, the Owls had three true freshmen in preseason camp who were expected to challenge for his job. Thomas has always shown the ability to make people miss in space, but his biggest plays last season came on jailbreak screen passes. The difference this year is that Thomas added about 10 pounds to his frame, and now he usually finishes runs with an extra yard or two. He has become particularly adept at picking the right hole in Temple's zone running game, and he can accelerate and change direction as well as anyone -- though he doesn't have top-level speed.
In last week's game over SMU, Temple allowed a season high forty points to the Mustangs offense. Coach Rhule said that the Owls didn't play great football even in a victory. Was that outcome a cause for concern or just a product of playing a QB like Matt Davis?
SP: While the American is filled with mobile quarterbacks running high-tempo spread offenses, last week's game was Temple's first against one of those teams. The Owls don't play Houston or Tulsa this year, and Memphis is on the slate next week. So there was definitely an adjustment in covering the entire field and tackling Davis in space. SMU was fairly successful running the ball, and the Owls were unusually sloppy in committing some big penalties. Is that a cause for concern going forward? Given the maturity that the team has displayed throughout the season, probably not.
How is Marcus Satterfield preparing his offense to attack a stingy USF defense that averages around 8 TFL per game.
SP: The basic gameplan for the Owls every week has been to run the ball with Thomas and try to create play-action possibilities for the passing game. They will spread the field on occasion, too, and run some screens and shallow crosses. Of late, Walker has become a running threat again. He was limited for much of the season by a shoulder injury he suffered in the season-opening win over Penn State. But now the zone read is back in the Temple playbook. This will be their first game against a 4-2-5 defense, which should make things interesting. Because for all of their success, the Owls are among the nation's leaders in negative rushing plays. If USF puts eight guys in the box to stop the run, you'll probably see Walker look to go up top to Anderson.
What are your expectations heading into Saturday's showdown in Raymond James Stadium.
SP: It's hard to imagine a whole lot of points will be scored on Saturday, since both of these teams emphasize defense and the running game. Stylistically, USF is more similar to Temple than any other team the Owls have played. Maybe UConn fits the same mold. So if the game is going to be played in the 10s and 20s, it wouldn't surprise me if the decisive plays come on special teams. The Owls have generally been solid in all aspects of the kicking game this season, and they've blocked several punts and kicks. While the Bulls appear to have a dangerous return game and shaky placekicking. If nothing wild happens on special teams, then the winner will probably be the team that manages to break a big play or two -- like both teams did last week.