1. After the loss to Notre Dame, how do you feel like Temple will respond to an SMU team that is sitting at just 1-7? Could it be a game they overlook with SMU being down again?
SP: I don't think there's any chance the Owls will overlook this game. A number of players said specifically after Saturday night's loss that the most important thing now is winning the AAC. And they clinch the East Division if they win the next two games. The Owls are a senior-laden team with a lot of maturity, which they demonstrated when they came off the season-opening win over Penn State (one of the biggest wins in school history) and took care of business the next week against Cincinnati. And most of the veterans also remember the loss at SMU two years ago.
2. P.J. Walker didn't exactly help Temple against Notre Dame (credit to them), but he's progressed well in not turning the ball over. What can SMU fans expect from Walker 2.0?
SP: Walker has mostly eliminated the turnover problems he had last season. With a lot more weapons around him, and a much better offensive line, he no longer forces the ball or tries to make plays when nothing is available. As a passer, he is distributing the ball to a lot of different receivers. Though Robby Anderson is the most dangerous vertical threat, Walker will not look to him exclusively in key situations. Additionally, you can expect Walker to run more zone-read plays than he did in the first half of the season. He injured his shoulder against Penn State, and they barely ran him over the next several games. But against Notre Dame he was back to being the dual-threat quarterback that he was in the past.
3. Jahad Thomas has been a force for Temple this year. What about him makes him so dangerous?
SP: Thomas is simply hard to catch. He's not super-fast, but has great ability to make multiple cuts in the open field. The Owls are running a lot of zone blocking schemes this season, and he has become very good at picking the right hole and accelerating through it. The other thing that has taken him to a new level this season is that he is putting his shoulder down and finishing off runs for a couple extra yards. Last season, it was hard to imagine giving him the ball in short-yardage situations. Now he has become an every-down back, and he's also a tremendous threat catching screen passes out of the backfield.
4. The defense makes its living off of assignment football and turnovers. What do they do defensively that allows them to create havoc like that?
SP: The Temple defense makes very few mistakes. Almost every starter has been playing together in this scheme for three years or more, so they rarely blow their assignments, and they don't miss too many tackles. Physically, they have two starting cornerbacks in Tavon Young and Sean Chandler who can match up with just about any receiver. And the safeties are veterans. This allows them to be very aggressive up front. They rotate several productive defensive ends, each of whom are smaller than average, but fast and athletic enough to rush the passer or drop into coverage on a zone blitz. And then they have two dominant guys in the middle in senior defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis and senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who has a chance to be Temple's first First Team All-American since Paul Palmer in 1986.
SP: The Owls will match either Young or Chandler against Sutton. Young generally plays the field and Chandler plays the boundary. But they truly are interchangeable. The Owls also employ a lot of zone coverage. Defensive coordinator Phil Snow has been switching the gameplan from week to week this season. They were blitz-happy against Penn State and sacked quarterback Christian Hackenberg 10 times, then they came back the next week with disguised zone coverages against Cincinnati and intercepted Gunner Kiel four times. This past week, they played more man-to-man coverage against Notre Dame wideout Will Fuller than anybody expected, and they held him in check until he caught the game-winning TD pass in the final minutes (which ironically came against zone coverage).