Billy Embody: The quarterback formerly known as P.J. Walker is now Phillip Walker and it appears he's still trying to find his footing in his senior year. Is there anything that you can point to as to what's causing his struggles and how he can correct them?
Shawn Pastor: "Walker's numbers haven't been great so far, but that's mostly because of inconsistent offensive line play and early issues at wide receiver -- not to mention Jahad Thomas missing the first two games. The receivers had several drops in the first two games, including two passes that bounced off their hands and were intercepted. But the drops have been cleaned up the last two weeks, and Walker has been getting them the ball. Next comes the offensive line, which has three new starters and is slowly getting its act together. For Walker and the Temple offense, the fourth quarter of the season-opening loss to Army was a turnover-filled disaster. But at this point, it's fair to say that was more of a blip than a trend."
BE: The Owls are always known for great defense. How's this year's defense shaping up and what is their strength this season?
SP: "Temple's defense figured to slip a little bit with three of last year's starters now playing in the NFL. But the front four and linebackers have been particularly inconsistent early on. The pass rush hasn't been as good as expected, and they failed to make the stops that they needed to make against Army and Penn State. The defensive line still has more depth, more proven playmakers, and more young talent than the other spots on Temple's defense. The secondary has three new starters and has been OK so far, but except for the trip to Penn State, they haven't been tested like they will be in American conference play."
BE: After last year's run of wins and success, what are some of the reasons for the drop off and how can the team start of AAC play right with a win at SMU?
SP: "The biggest difference between last year's 7-0 start and this year's 2-2 start is that last year's team always got the job done in the fourth quarter. On offense, the four most dangerous players last season were Thomas (who missed the first two games), Robbie Anderson (now with the Jets), Kip Patton (who was dismissed from the team this offseason), and Ventell Bryant (who has missed the last three games with a shoulder injury). And when you throw in the three new starters on the offensive line, this is a team that really needed its defense and special teams to carry the load for the first few weeks. And that hasn't happened. Can they get rolling in AAC play? Sure, but they'll need the defensive front to regain its once-dominant form."
BE: What's been the message from Matt Rhule to his team and are there any injuries that will really hurt the Owls?
SP: "Rhule's message since spring practice has been that last year was last year, and this is a new team and a new season. The season-opening loss to Army really hammered that home. The injuries to Thomas and Bryant have been the most significant. Thomas is now 100 percent and Bryant is expected to return in another week or two. Looking ahead, the Owls have two guys in their defensive line rotation (Julian Taylor and Sharif Finch) who have a history of knee problems. So it's a good bet that they could miss a week or be limited in an upcoming contest."
BE: What's your feeling for this game and how it goes? Got a prediction yet?
SP: "On paper, this looks like a good match-up for the Owls, primarily because the Temple defense has thrived the last couple years against pass-first quarterbacks like Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, Cincinnati's Gunner Kiel, and Memphis's Paxton Lynch. Conversely, they have had trouble stopping dual-threat guys like Houston's Greg Ward, USF's Quinton Flowers, and of course, SMU's Matt Davis. So if Ben Hicks is more similar to Lynch than he is to Davis, then the Owls will have a proven plan, regardless of the multiplicity of the Mustangs' offense. The match-up between Temple's offense and SMU's defense also seems to favor the Owls, because SMU hasn't faced a true pro-set attack as of yet, so they will have to adjust to a team that's looking to drive the ball and control the clock rather than spread the field and play fast. Temple also seems to have an edge in all areas on special teams. Perhaps the wild card is Courtland Sutton, since the Owls' new cornerbacks haven't yet faced a receiver of his caliber. Prediction: Temple 37, SMU 20"