Temple (1-1, 0-0 AAC) vs. Massachusetts (0-3, Independent)
Lincoln Financial Field
Friday, 7 p.m., ESPNU
It was far from easy and there were many bruises to heal this week, but Temple secured its first win of the Geoff Collins era last week when the Owls held on for dear life against a scrappy Villanova squad for a 16-13 victory.
Now, less than a week later, the Owls return to the Linc under the bright Friday night lights to face off against a struggling UMass squad.
Head coach Mark Whipple’s Minutemen have stumbled out of the gate to an 0-3 record that includes losses to Hawaii, Coastal Carolina and Old Dominion. In those three games, the Minutemen have given up a total of 93 points.
This is clearly a prime opportunity for the Owls to get some needed momentum in all phases.
Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:
While it certainly wasn’t the most polished performance, redshirt sophomore quarterback Logan Marchi looked more comfortable in the pocket last week against Villanova. Sure, the FCS Wildcats aren’t the Notre Dame team Marchi went up against in Week 1. But he was still making better decisions and reads. Last week, he went 20 of 34 for 274 yards and also executed a near flawless two-minute drive at the end of the first half that gave Temple its only TD of the day. He still needs to get rid of the ball more frequently when he’s in trouble and not take a sack or force a throw, but that will come in time for a young QB.
Marchi was aided by the return of junior wideout Ventell Bryant, last season’s leading receiver, who missed the Nore Dame game with a hamstring injury. In his season debut, Bryant reeled in seven catches for 79 yards on the day, including a spectacular one-handed snag as the Owls drove and kicked a field goal to take the 16-13 lead that held. Senior Keith Kirkwood leads the Owls with eight grabs for 121 yards and a TD this season.
Collins admitted the workload of running back Ryquell Armstead was limited last week as the junior suffered an undisclosed injury the prior week at Notre Dame. With that, the Owls’ rushing attack was stifled for the second consecutive game. Temple had just 79 yards on 22 carries last week. Thought to be a strength coming into the season, Temple rushers have just 164 yards on 64 carries on the season.
The Temple defense has been a Jekyll and Hyde show the first two weeks of the season. After getting scorched by the Notre Dame ground game for 422 yards and five touchdowns out in South Bend, the Owls smothered the Wildcats for just 20 yards on 30 carries last week. But after holding the Irish in check through the air with just 184 yards, the Owls had no answer for Villanova QB Zach Bednarczyk and his 382 passing yards on 27 attempts last week. So, what exactly is the problem with Temple’s defense? Or, even worse, is there more than one problem?
Offense hasn’t been the issue for the Minutemen, who are averaging 23.3 points over their first three contests. Junior QB Andrew Ford has been efficient, throwing for 827 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception so far this season. Last week vs. Old Dominion, he went 21 of 32, for 236 yards and a score. He did go over 300 yards in the loss to Coastal Carolina two weeks ago.
Junior tight end Adam Breneman has been Ford’s favorite target on the season. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder has recorded two games of over 100 yards receiving on the season already — 179 yards on nine grabs vs. Hawaii and 126 yards on nine more catches vs. Coastal Carolina. His 323 yards on the season are already almost halfway to his total from last season.
Junior Marquis Young has been the lead horse at running back for the Minutemen. He’s rushed for 149 yards and four TDs this season. Those four TDs already match his total from all of last season. The guy knows how to find the end zone as he’s got 15 TDs over his first two seasons and change at the collegiate level.
The UMass defense … well, let’s just say it’s not great. The unit gave up 38 points and 513 yards of total offense, including 391 through the air to Hawaii three weeks ago. That included a seven-yard TD pass with 48 seconds left that sealed the win for the Rainbow Warriors. Hawaii WR John Ursa had 272 receiving yards that day. But much like Temple, UMass followed it up the next week by getting torched in a different way — on the ground by Coastal Carolina, to the tune of 321 rushing yards. While the Minutemen were better against ODU last week, they still present a chance for Marchi and the rest of the Temple offense to get rolling. That said, senior linebacker and Towson transfer Bryton Barr is a player to keep an eye on. He leads UMass with 44 tackles on the season and can disrupt plays.
Friday evening will mark just the second meeting between Temple and UMass, which joined the FBS level in 2011.
The Owls took the first meeting, a wild 25-23 victory at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, home of the New England Patriots. On that September day in 2015, the heavily-favored Owls were as flat as could be all afternoon long and were on the verge of getting upset by the Minutemen. That was until a late UMass extra-point attempt was blocked and the Owls returned it for a two-point conversion that cut the Minutemen’s lead to 23-22 with 1:20 left. QB Phillip Walker led the Owls down the field on the ensuing drive and Austin Jones nailed a 32-yard field goal with seven seconds left to give Temple the win.
If that late comeback doesn’t take place, who knows what road Temple’s 2015 dream season that included the nationally televised primetime showdown with Notre Dame at the Linc and College Gameday at Independence Mall takes?
Storyline to watch: Where’s the improvement in Week 3?
The first two weeks have clearly been a feeling-out process for Collins, a first-year head coach, and his Owls, who are in the midst of replacing a four-year starter at QB and seven starters from a ferocious 2016 defense.
As expected, there have been some lumps over the first few weeks. But Friday marks the third game of the new era and, with all due respect to these Minutemen, this UMass team offers a chance for the Owls to take steps in the right direction in many areas. Can Marchi get more comfortable in his new role? Can the rushing game finally get on track? Can the defense begin to form some type of identity?
Temple better hope a few questions are answered Friday because there will be no room for error next week …
What’s at stake: Momentum before next week’s huge test at South Florida.
Temple needs to get the momentum rolling this week because the sternest test of the season looms ahead — next week at conference favorite No. 22 South Florida.
The young Owls can ill-afford to fall flat on their faces Friday against an underwhelming UMass team and then head to Tampa on yet another short week Thursday with the confidence waning.
That’s like losing half the battle right there. And facing the Bulls, especially in Tampa, is already hard enough.
Though the Owls have yet to find their groove in many areas this season, they still have way too much talent for this UMass team to deal with. The Owls should win this one pretty handily.
Temple 34, Massachusetts 13