Matt Cockayne

Tons at stake as Temple hosts unbeaten UCF; Penn, Villanova wrap up

usa-frank-nutile.jpg
USA Today Images

Tons at stake as Temple hosts unbeaten UCF; Penn, Villanova wrap up

Temple (5-5, 3-3 AAC) vs. No. 15 UCF (9-0, 6-0 AAC)
Lincoln Financial Field
Saturday, noon, ESPNU

Last time out
Temple beat Cincinnati, 35-24, last Friday.

UCF beat UConn, 49-24, last Saturday.

Scouting report
Both teams have a lot at stake in Saturday’s game. An Owls win would make them bowl eligible and give them a victory against a high-ranked opponent, which would certainly help when it comes time for bowl selection. On the other hand, UCF will look to preserve its perfect season and stay atop the AAC's East Division with a crucial matchup against 8-1 South Florida looming.

Frank Nutile, who will make his fourth consecutive start at quarterback, has sparked Temple’s offense. Since he stepped in, he has completed 61 of 89 passes for 803 yards, six touchdowns and just two interceptions, and led the Owls to two wins. He will need to continue his stellar play for Temple to beat UCF, which boasts the second-best total and scoring defense in the AAC, allowing 371 yards per game and 20.7 points per game.

The Knights also have the best total offense in the conference, putting up 538 yards per game and 48.6 points per game, which is more than six points better than the second-best team. The Owls must keep UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton (2,720 yards, 22 touchdowns, five interceptions) and the Knights' rushing attack, which averages 210.2 yards per game, in check if they want a chance at the upset.

Series history
The series is tied at 2-2 and Temple has won the past two matchups, including a 26-25 come-from-behind win last year.

What's next?
Temple travels to play Tulsa next Saturday.

UCF hosts No. 23 South Florida on Friday night.

Penn (5-4, 3-3 Ivy) vs. Cornell (3-6, 3-3 Ivy)
Franklin Field
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.


Last time out
Penn defeated Harvard, 23-6, last Saturday.

Cornell lost to Columbia, 18-8, last Saturday.

Scouting report
Penn has won its last three Ivy League contests and has gained a lot of momentum after losing its first three Ivy League games this season. Cornell shouldn’t pose much of a challenge to the Quakers since the Big Red are second worst in the conference in scoring offense, total offense and pass efficiency. The Quakers’ strength is their rushing attack, as they average 192 yards per game on the ground. Cornell’s rush defense is sixth in the conference, so look for the Quakers to take advantage of this matchup.

Series history
This is the 124th meeting between the teams. The Quakers hold a 72-46-5 advantage and won, 42-20, last season. 

What's next?
This is the final game of the season for both teams.

Villanova (4-6, 2-5 CAA) vs. Delaware (7-3, 5-2 CAA)
Villanova Stadium, Villanova, Pennsylvania 
Saturday, 1 p.m.


Last time out
Villanova lost to Rhode Island, 20-6, last Saturday.

Delaware beat Albany, 22-3, last Saturday.

Scouting report
What stands out about this regular-season finale are the defenses for Delaware and Villanova. Delaware’s scoring defense is second to James Madison as the Blue Hens allow just 15.7 points per game. The Wildcats’ specialty on the defensive side of the football is their run defense. Villanova allows only 72 yards per game on the ground and will look to slow down a Delaware rushing attack that averages 200 yards per game. Also to note, the Blue Hens come in fighting for a berth in the FCS playoffs.

Series history
Villanova leads the series 28-21-1. The Wildcats won, 41-10, last season.

What's next?
This is the regular-season finale for both Villanova and Delaware. For the second time in the last three seasons, the Wildcats won't make the FCS playoffs.

Experienced Temple aims for return to NCAA Tournament

Experienced Temple aims for return to NCAA Tournament

After last year’s disappointing season in which Temple’s young roster failed to win a game in the AAC Tournament and ultimately was sent home early without a postseason berth of any kind, the Owls, led by their two senior captains Josh Brown and Obi Enechionyia, are aiming for an NCAA Tournament run this go around.

Now in his fifth year, Brown returns as the team’s lead guard after an Achilles tendon injury limited him to just five games last season, while Enechionyia comes back as the Owls' top frontcourt option after withdrawing from the NBA draft last May.

Enechionyia, who averaged 13.1 points and 5.8 rebounds last season, has been a matchup problem for teams in recent years because of his shooting ability as a big man and length on both ends of the floor. But head coach Fran Dunphy praised Enechionyia's evolution into a complete player this offseason.

“I think Obi’s getting better each and every day,” Dunphy said. “Obviously, they are gonna guard him to shoot the jump shot and now he has to attack the closeout, as it were. So, if the guy is hanging on his right side, he has to shot fake and pull through and get the gap. Maybe he’s pulling up for a quick jumper or maybe he’s kicking it to the other side of the floor, a little drive and kick stuff. He can always defend and rebound better, too, and I think that’s the next charge for him — to make a statement, not only shooting the basketball but at the other end of the floor.”

While Brown and Enechionyia are the unquestioned leaders, this Temple team doesn’t lack experience. Junior guard Shizz Alston, Jr. and sophomore guards Alani Moore and Quinton Rose were thrown into the fire in Brown’s absence, playing 36.4, 25.8 and 24.8 minutes per game, respectively, last season.

“It was really important [getting minutes last year],” Rose said. “I’m coming into this season really comfortable because I played in the beginning, middle and end of games last year. I think it’s really important that I’m going into this year with a little experience, more experience than most [sophomores].”

Rose was also able to gain valuable experience in his freshman season by talking to and learning from Brown, who was his roommate during road trips.

“He would just tell me stuff, get my head on straight and get me prepared for games, so that was good,” Rose said. “But this year, he’s doing a great job leading the guys, making sure we go hard, making sure we’re on time with things, early in fact, and just handling our business. He’s a really good leader.”

With depth at guard, Dunphy can allow the four freshmen on the team, whom he described as “great," to develop, though he will likely give them game opportunities. This year, the Owls will often play four guards on the floor at the same time to capitalize on their passing ability and athleticism, which will cause mismatches across the board.

“I think we have a lot of guards that can get out and run and play more than one position,” Rose said. “For myself, I think in the four-guard rotation, I’m the four-man guard and I think that’s a mismatch more times than not.”

“We just have a lot of selfless guys,” Brown said. “They love to share the ball and it makes their job easier, it makes everybody’s job easier when the ball is moving side to side and the defense can’t really react to the moves. We understand that and it’s helping us along the way. Now we just need to learn how to sometimes be selfish. Once we learn that we’re going to be a pretty solid offensive team.”

The experience will come in handy this season in a talented American Athletic Conference that just added No. 7 Wichita State and also features No. 12 Cincinnati. Temple hosts Wichita State on Feb. 1 and travels to play the Shockers on Feb. 15, while it plays the Bearcats at home on Jan. 4 and journeys to Cincy on Feb. 15.

The Owls also play a string of marquee matchups at home early in the season, facing Wisconsin on Dec. 6, St. Joe’s on Dec. 9 and No. 6 Villanova on Dec. 13.

The one thing Dunphy and multiple players emphasized needing to improve upon before the regular season begins this coming Thursday vs. Old Dominion in the Charleston Classic was team defense. Dunphy focused on the team’s communication, weak-side help and denial of second-chance opportunities, while Brown pinpointed help defense and consistency as areas of improvement.

“We want to win as many games as possible," Brown said. "From there, hopefully, we get into the tournament and make a special run. We know what it takes, it’s an everyday process so we’re trying to approach every day like that.”

Temple at a glance

Head coach: Fran Dunphy (12th season at Temple, 29th overall)

Last year: 16-16, 7-11 in AAC (finished eighth in AAC regular season standings, lost 80-69 in first round of AAC Tournament to East Carolina)

Top returners: G Josh Brown, F Obi Enechionyia, G Shizz Alston Jr.

Key losses: G/F Daniel Dingle, F Mark Williams

Impact newcomers: G Nate Pierre-Louis, F De’Vondre Perry, F J.P. Moorman II, F Justyn Hamilton

Games to watch: Dec. 6 vs. Wisconsin, Dec. 9 vs Saint Joseph’s, Dec. 13 vs. No. 6 Villanova, Jan. 24 at No. 12 Cincinnati, Feb. 15 at No. 7 Wichita State

Best-case scenario: Brown returns to pre-injury form and spearheads Temple’s deep backcourt, while Enechionyia provides inside scoring and defensive threats to make the Owls competitive again in the talented AAC. The two senior captains lead Temple back to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence.

Worst-case scenario: Brown’s injury lingers and Temple’s young guards can’t handle the tough AAC competition, while Enechionyia struggles as a top scoring option and the Owls fail to make the Big Dance for the second straight year.

Temple primed for late season run; Penn looking for three in a row; Villanova eyes bounce back

usatsi_nutilemyaric.jpg
USA Today Images

Temple primed for late season run; Penn looking for three in a row; Villanova eyes bounce back

Temple (4-5, 2-3 AAC) vs. Cincinnati (3-6, 1-4 AAC)
Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Friday, 7 p.m., ESPN2


Last time out
Temple beat Navy, 34-26, on Thursday.

Cincinnati beat Tulane, 17-16, on Saturday.

Scouting report
Both teams are fighting to stay bowl eligible. An Owls' win would knock the Bearcats out of bowl contention and an Owls' loss would leave them with zero margin for error and a game against top-25 ranked UCF on the horizon.

Temple has played two solid offensive games in a row behind new starting QB Frank Nutile, who completed 22 of 30 passes for 289 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception in last week’s upset victory against Navy. Nutile will face a tough Bearcats' pass defense this weekend that gives up just 208 yards per game, which is second in the AAC, and has allowed 16 touchdowns on the season.

What it means
If Temple wants to have any chance to make a bowl game, they have to win two of their last three.

Series history
Temple owns the series lead 11-7-1 and has won the last two matchups between the teams, including a 34-13 blowout last year.

What’s next?
Temple hosts Central Florida.

Cincinnati travels to play East Carolina.

Penn (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) at Harvard (5-3, 3-2 Ivy)
Harvard Stadium, Boston, Massachusetts
12:00 p.m. Saturday

Last time out
Penn defeated Princeton, 38-35, Saturday.

Harvard defeated Columbia 21-14, Saturday.

Scouting report
The matchup to watch this weekend is the battle in the trenches. Harvard has a strong rush defense that is one of the best in the Ivy League and Penn’s rushing offense is second in the conference. Harvard allows only 102 yards per game on the ground, second in the conference. Penn rushes for 180 yards per game. Only Yale (230) averages more on a per game basis. Since Harvard has eight interceptions (second in the Ivy) this season, look for Penn to pound the football to try to add to its win total.

Series history
This is the 88th meeting between the teams. The Crimson hold a 48-37-2 advantage and the Quakers won 27-14 last season.

What’s next?
Penn hosts Cornell.

Harvard is at Yale.

Villanova (4-5, 2-4 CAA) at Rhode Island (2-7, 1-5 CAA)
Meade Stadium, Kingston, Rhode Island
12:00 p.m. Saturday

Last time out
Villanova lost to Richmond, 22-0, Saturday.

Rhode Island lost to James Madison, 38-3, Saturday.

Scouting report
Villanova is known this season for its run defense, which is the best in the Colonial. The Wildcats allow just 71 yards per game on the ground and Rhode Island is the 10th best rushing offense in the conference. The Rams, on the other hand, are one of the better passing offenses in the Colonial. They average 231 yards through the air, third best in the conference. Whoever can sustain success in their respective strength will come out on top in this matchup.

Series history
Villanova leads the series 19-3. The Wildcats won 35-0 last season.

What’s next?
Villanova hosts Delaware.

Rhode Island is at Towson.