Temple-UCF Game Preview

The Temple Owls (4-2, 2-1 AAC) clash with Central Florida in a vital conference game.

The options were simple after Temple’s letdown against Houston last week: Turn the page and attempt to move on from what was easily its worst performance of the season. But the road through the American Athletic Conference isn’t getting any easier, and next for Temple on its run through the AAC gauntlet is Central Florida (4-2, 2-0 AAC). The Knights enter their Saturday homecoming game against Owls riding a four-game winning streak and will look to knock Temple (4-2, 2-1 AAC) down yet another peg in the conference standings.

Temple made glaring mistakes across the board in its 31-10 loss to Houston, but the silver lining to that game is the knowledge that the Owls can hang with an opponent even when they play terribly.

“Even though we did this many things (wrong)… with two minutes left in the third quarter, it’s 17-10 (Houston),” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “We still had a chance to win. And, so, that should, in my mind, give (us) confidence. We have to play so much better but even though we did all those things, we still have a chance to be in the game."

If Temple can keep a game close when it isn't firing on all cylinders, imagine what the scoreboard might read down in Orlando after the UCF game if Temple produces a clean, sharp performance against the Knights. That’s easier said than done, of course, because UCF team that has looked formidable throughout the season thus far, which began with a narrow loss to Penn State on a last-second field goal in the Croke Park Classic in Dublin, Ireland. A loss to Missouri dropped the Knights to 0-2 against “power conference” opponents. However, UCF appears to have gained plenty from its encounters with top competition as it enters Saturday's game on the strength of the winning streak that began against Bethune-Cookman and continued against the same Houston team that handled the Owls. UCF also beat BYU in overtime and then Tulane in its most recent game.

The Owls have mounting injury concerns coming into the UCF game. As of Tuesday, left tackle Dion Dawkins, Kenny Harper, linebacker Avery Williams and backup middle linebacker Jarred Alwan were all questionable or doubtful for the UCF game, Rhule said. Linebacker Nate Smith is also “questionable at best,” Rhule added.

So, while the entire Temple roster will be stretched in order to overcome its personnel shortages, much of the onus to produce falls on the shoulders of a single player. Not surprisingly, that player is P.J. Walker, and much will be asked of him in Orlando if the Owls are to have any chance of emerging victorious. Walker’s outing at Houston (12-of-29 passing with three interceptions, 259 yards and one touchdown) was sub-par by the standards of his head coach.

“We’ll find out what kind of competitor and player P.J. is,” Rhule said of his quarterback. “Let me say this: P.J. has to play better. OK? There’s no doubt about that. P.J. has to play better. I was proud of him in that he played really, really hard. He ran the ball really, really hard… But you can’t turn the ball over four times.”

In particular, it was a third-quarter, goal-line fumble in which Walker abandoned his ball-carrying fundamentals and relinquished possession to Houston that upset Rhule. In any event, Walker can draw on the success of his 2013 performance against UCF in which he threw for more than 380 yards and four touchdowns for some confidence heading into the game.

The Catch is in the past

Down in Orlando and on the UCF campus, they know it simply as “The Catch,” and they’re talking about it plenty this week. You can forgive any Temple fan that is still suffering as a result of that play, as well as the Owls’ eventual loss to the Knights back on Nov. 16. And while The Catch continues to run on repeat in UCF dorm rooms and in the minds of scarred Owls fans this week, it’s not even on the radar at Edberg-Olson Hall.

UCF clinched a famous victory at Lincoln Financial Field on a last-second field goal, but it was the diving, one-handed grab reeled in by J.J. Worton on a ball thrown by NFL draftee-to-be Blake Bortles as he was hit on the run that set the tone for the Knights’ eventual win. It must be noted that there was a defensive stand by the Knights, and then the game-winning kick, but the Bortles-to-Worton hookup stood as a singular moment in a very memorable season for the BCS bound Knights.

But again, Temple football couldn’t care less about The Catch or the player that made the throw (who is still playing in the state of Florida but is starting for the Jacksonville Jaguars) or the loss. That’s all in the rearview for Temple.

“I think it’s last year,” Rhule said. “There were so many guys that were out there that aren’t even playing (this year). To be honest with you, I can’t move on from (the Houston game) and I know our team can’t. But we have to move on because we have to make sure we have our edge. Central Florida (head coach) George O’Leary, I have the utmost respect for his ability to coach and the way he runs his team and they are tough and hard-nosed and physical.”

Perhaps, though, it’s more correct to say that The Catch is in the past for Temple. Because it’s now sewn into the fabric of UCF football lore for good. Worton’s catch garnered massive attention — GIFs of the play were many in number, it made repeat appearances on all manner of sports-news TV programming and it was also awarded the ESPN Sport Sciences Award for Best Catch.

When you tune into CBS for today’s game, don’t be surprised when the play is replayed. And then replayed again.


Temple, 31-10 loss @ Houston Cougars (4-3, 2-1 AAC) As a service to those Owls fans still feeling their hangover from the Houston game, we’ll make this quick. Of course, the Cougars humbled the entire Temple program in the 31-10 bludgeoning. No one played well, Rhule said, nor did any of the coaches coach well. The lone exception, perhaps, was running back Jahad Thomas. On just 10 touches (three receptions and seven carries), Thomas totaled 200 yards of offense. Certainly, his play was a bright spot in an otherwise jarring night that began with high hopes for Temple.

UCF, 20-13 win versus Tulane Green Wave (2-5, 1-2 AAC) Tulane doesn’t strike fear in the hearts of many, but it gave UCF a scare last weekend as the Knights had to eke out a 20-13 win in order to move to 5-1. The UCF defense stepped up when needed, gathering two interceptions, eight pass break-ups and 13 quarterback hurries to hamper the Green Wave attack and secure the narrow win. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as the Knights’ defensive unit ranks No. 18 overall in red zone defense (Temple leads the nation in this statistic). UCF quarterbacks combined for 12-of-24 passing in the game with two interceptions, 137 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Justin Holman had all but seven of those pass attempts and also accounted for the touchdown and interceptions.

Knights receivers logged a pedestrian performance against Tulane, combining for 12 catches and 139 yards. Five UCF running backs toted the rock 38 times for 141 total yards, but even the leading rusher — Dontravious Wilson — only went for 51 net yards. A similar output from UCF’s skill-position players should bode well for Temple, which remains plus-4 in turnover margin.

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