East Carolina (3-8, 1-6 AAC) at Temple (8-3. 6-1 AAC)
Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ESPNews
This is it. Temple can finally lock up a spot in the American Athletic Conference Championship game with a win against East Carolina on Saturday night.
The Owls were 3-3 and 1-1 in the AAC after a loss to Memphis on Oct. 6. They’ve won five in a row since, and have been dominant in their last three games, winning them all by more than three touchdowns.
Last season, Temple clinched a spot in the conference championship game with a 27-3 win against Connecticut in its last regular season game. Let’s take a look at the Owls' matchup with the Pirates and see if they are ready to do something similar this year.
Defensive coordinator Phil Snow has done wonders with a defense that had three players drafted to the NFL in April. The Owls rank No. 3 in total defense and No. 14 in scoring defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Temple hasn’t allowed opponents to score in its last two and a half games.
A large part of the team’s defensive success is Temple’s ability to get off the field on third down. Opponents are converting 30.7 percent of third-down attempts against Temple, which ranks No. 13 in the FBS. Redshirt-senior defensive lineman Haason Reddick continues to be the star of the defense. He leads the FBS with 20 tackles for loss.
Redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Ventell Bryant was the offensive star for the Owls in last week's win against Tulane. Bryant hauled in nine catches for 168 yards and a touchdown. He’s had four or more catches and totaled 70 or more yards in five of his last six games.
Sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead, who leads Temple with 807 yards rushing and 11 rushing touchdowns, is questionable to return this week after missing last week’s game against Tulane. Senior Jahad Thomas had no issues shouldering the primary backfield duties last week, totaling 103 total yards and two total touchdowns.
Scouting East Carolina
East Carolina’s defense ranks No. 108 in total defense and No. 11 in scoring defense out of 128 FBS teams.The Pirates have given up an average of more than 60 points per game in their last two contests. Navy ran for 480 yards and nine touchdowns on it way to 66 points last week. Southern Methodist used a more balanced attack the week before, throwing for 237 yards and three touchdowns and running for 240 yards and two touchdowns.
On offense, the Pirates love to pile up the passing yards. East Carolina averages 348.5 passing yards per game, which ranks No. 5 in the FBS. The Pirates average more than 28 points per game. It’s unclear if senior Phillip Nelson or sophomore Gardner Minshew will start for the Pirates. Minshew started in place of Nelson last week, passing for 238 yards and three touchdowns against Navy.
Senior wide receiver Zay Jones is one of the top wideouts in the country. He leads the FBS with 151 catches and has 1,685 yards and eight touchdowns.
Storyline to watch
The Owls tied the program record with 10 wins last year. If Temple wins Saturday, it would be the Owls' ninth win of the season. Temple hasn’t had back-to-back nine win seasons in its program's history. In fact, the Owls have only won nine or more games only five times in their 69 seasons of existence.
What's at stake?
A win and the Owls goes to the conference championship game for the second year in a row. They've been playing must-win games since losing to Memphis in early October.
Temple’s defense continues to dominate and the Owls once again easily take care of a weaker opponent to win the AAC East title on their home field.
Temple 31, East Carolina 10