Temple-ECU Game Preview

Temple risks falling back to .500 with a loss, and the Owls must channel a big upset that few are predicting against No. 21/23 East Carolina in order to regain their footing in a 2014 season that might start to slip away with a third consecutive loss.

Temple’s shock 4-1 start to the 2014 season brought with it hopes of short-term success and postseason possibilities. It also signaled possible progress for a program that posted 10 losses in 2013. Falling back to an even .500 record at 4-4, though, and the Owls would cede much if not all of the positive momentum it gained during its first five games. The task of keeping its collective head above water in the American Athletic Conference doesn’t get any easier for Temple (4-3, 2-2 AAC) as it welcomes No. 21/23-ranked East Carolina (6-1, 3-0 AAC) to Lincoln Financial Field (noon, ESPNews).

ECU became the toast of college football after going on the road to upset then-nationally ranked Virginia Tech, 28-21, on Sept. 13. Since then, the Pirates have held strong by winning games it was supposed to win and keeping themselves very much in the mix for the postseason and AAC championship.

Leading the charge for the Pirates will be quarterback Shane Carden, who has posted 18 touchdown passes compared to just five interceptions and a grand total of 2,574 passing yards. Also a threat to run, Carden has carried 48 times for 105 net yards and three rushing scores — good enough for fifth among ECU rushers.

"He’s extremely accurate and he’s extremely competitive,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said Tuesday during his weekly press conference of Carden. "I mean, you watch the Virginia Tech game — (Virginia Tech) is all-out blitzing him, hitting him underneath the chin with vicious hits and he’s standing in there and throwing the ball down the field. So, he’s unbelievably accurate, but he’s courageous, tough, he can beat you with his feet… He’s the complete package for them and he does it the right way."

Carden’s opposite number in the game — Temple starter P.J. Walker — has wavered of late. Generally inconsistent play, but turnovers especially, have plagued Walker as he has thrown seven interceptions (eight total turnovers) in the last three games. As a result, the Temple offense has stagnated while being outscored by a combined 65-24 against Houston and UCF.

If Temple is going to grab hold of the remaining momentum from its hot start to the season and improve its outlook in both the long and short term, it needs to starts now. "It’s a pivotal moment for us,” Rhule said Tuesday of the timing of the ECU’s visit to Lincoln Financial Field. “(We’re) a football team that’s trying to figure out how to win and lose all the time and I think, even just being out there (at practice) today, we’re a little rattled. Our confidence is shaken."

The Pirates have three formidable receivers — Justin Hardy, Isaiah Jones and Cam Worthy — with at least 23 catches and 496 receiving yards this season. Hardy is leading the receiving corps with 66 catches, six scores and an average of more than 111 yards receiving per game. That’s good enough for 779 yards through just seven games.

"They are a fast, fast, fast-paced offense,” Rhule said of ECU. "As fast as anyone in the country… They truly are a top-15, top-20 team."

LAST TIME OUT

Temple, 34-14 loss @ UCF (5-2, 3-0 AAC) The Owls come stumbling into arguably its biggest game of the season against ECU having lost two in a row. The latter of the two losses came on the road at UCF in a 34-14 drubbing. Sandwiched between periods of UCF dominance was spectacular special teams play by the Owls and a few defensive stops as well. But Temple’s quarterback struggles weren’t sandwiched between anything — they lasted the entire game. The offense was rendered ineffective as Walker was benched for four full drives in the second half (Connor Reilly led those drives. Walker re-entered the game in the fourth quarter and lead longer, positive drives when compared to his play earlier in the game. Still, even the late-game progress wasn’t enough to keep Walker from turning the ball over twice (once by interception, once by turnover on downs). He finished the game 15-of-28 passing for 111 yards and a touchdown.

ECU, 31-21 win versus Connecticut Huskies (1-6, 0-4 AAC) ECU enters the Temple game with the benefit of a “mini bye-week,” having played its last game on Thursday, Oct. 23. The Pirates nine days of preparation for the trip north to Philadelphia comes after their 31-21 win against UCONN. Carden dropped back to pass 64 times in the game, completing 38 attempts for 445 yards. Of those, Hardy roped in 14 balls for 186 yards and one touchdown. UCONN put up a fine fight, tying the game twice in the third quarter at 14-14 and later at 21-21. The score remained tied until the the 6:15 mark of the final period when the Pirates’ Warren Harvey knocked in a 46-yard field goal before a late touchdown cemented the win.

ECU’s “third bye-week” could benefit Temple

Owls coaches and fans alike rued the two bye weeks this season, but ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said the extended layoff for ECU after the UCONN game felt like a third bye week in the Pirates’ schedule. That layoff included two off days for players. The Pirates will definitely be more fresh by virtue of their extended break between games, but long breaks can also dull a team’s sharpness on the field, too.

"It felt almost like a third bye week after not playing on Saturday, but it was good to have two days away from it,” McNeill said. "We have another tough road game this week at Temple. We know they'll be focused and we'll be focused as well. The competition is going to get better each week in this conference.

“...Matt (Rhule) has them playing well. He understands the game from the ground up and building from the ground up. Offensively, P.J. Walker is a dual-threat quarterback. He can run it and throw it. They're going to play with three wideouts."

Playoff contender?

The College Football Playoff is still months away from beginning, and we won’t know the participants for about five more weeks. But that’s a relatively short wait compared to the years — decades for some — of clamoring for proper playoff system to determine the sports’ national champion. And when the CFP Committee unveiled its inaugural rankings Tuesday, the AAC was indeed represented and it was ECU checking in at No. 23. The Pirates would seem to be a long shot to climb 19 spots and into playoff position, but at least their name is being considered in the playoff committee meetings. That’s more than three-loss Temple and numerous other prestigious programs across the country can say.

McNeill, now in his fifth year of leading ECU, said Tuesday during his weekly presser that he’s interested to monitor the progress of the CFP weekly poll, but generally doesn’t concern himself with week-to-week rankings.

"A couple weeks ago, we didn't even play and moved up two spots (in the Associated Press poll),” McNeill said. "That's why I don't focus on them. I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I am informed. We didn't play a game and moved up. We don't coach for rankings. I've never coached that way and I'm not going to start now. What we coach is playing our best on every play and embracing our roles to make the team better. That's what we can control."


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