GAME NOTES: The Temple Owls and the Connecticut Huskies renew a recent rivalry, this time in conference play, as the two squads collide in a Big East battle at Rentschler Field.
The Owls got off to a great start in their second foray as a member of the Big East, downing South Florida 37-28 to earn their first win in Big East play since 2004. Since that season Temple had been an Independent and a member of the Mid-American Conference. The win also put an end to a two-game losing streak for the Owls and was the fourth consecutive win in a conference opener for the team.
Connecticut lost the battle of the Big East's best defenses last time out falling to No. 20 Rutgers 19-3 on the road. The Huskies have yet to put together back-to-back wins this season but have also not lost consecutive games on their way to an even 3-3 overall record. The loss to Rutgers was in the Huskies' first conference game this season.
Temple leads the all-time series between these squads 8-4, including two straight victories.
It took four weeks but Temple finally got the production that was expected when running back Montel Harris transferred from Boston College over the summer. The former All-ACC back erupted for 133 yards and two touchdowns in the win over South Florida which was more than he had racked up in the three previous games combined. Matt Brown is still the leading rusher on the team this season (261) but Harris' reemergence could change the offensive strategy for the Owls.
Chris Coyer is clearly who head coach Steve Addazio will continue to go with under center. Coyer has not been overly proficient at quarterback, completing only 54.7 percent of his passes and averaging 132.5 yards passing per game, but he has limited turnovers (one interception) and is able to create with his feet (251 rushing yards).
In terms of receiving, Temple has not been an overly productive squad with Jalen Fitzpatrick the only player with more than 100 yards (162).
Despite ranking last in the Big East in total offense (303.0 ypg) this season, Temple has found ways to put points on the board, ranking third in scoring (29.5 ppg).
The Owls have not been so lucky on defense where they rank last in total yards (393.5 ypg) and sixth in scoring defense (24.5 ppg).
The strength of the unit from a purely statistical basis is the secondary, led by the team's top two tacklers Nate Smith (29) and Justin Gildea (22). Olaniyi Adewole is perhaps the leader of the defense though with the linebacker leading the team in tackles for loss (three) while tying for the lead in sacks (one) an area the Owls have struggled this season.
Going up against the punishing Rutgers defense, an already weak Connecticut offense was exposed with the Huskies managing only 244 yards of total offense and a season-low three points. Connecticut didn't sustain drives in the loss and had just one red zone trip. Overall the Huskies are only getting 19.8 points and 310.5 yards per game on offense which rank among the worst in the Big East.
Chandler Whitmer has clearly not been the quarterback that head coach Paul Pasqualoni was hoping for. The junior college transfer has thrown for a healthy 1,242 yards, but is completing only 58.4 percent of his passes with 10 interceptions to only four touchdown passes.
Also disappointing this season has been running back Lyle McCombs who despite ranking fifth in the Big East in rushing this season, has averaged only 3.6 yards per carry with 484 yards on 134 carries. McCombs is the focal point of the running game with more than 100 carries more than any other player on the team.
Although Whitmer has not thrown the ball particularly well, Geremy Davis has turned into a solid receiver, catching 23 balls for 346 yards and a score this season.
Defense is where the Huskies have really shined this season. The Huskies are ranked in the top-25 nationally in eight different defensive categories, including total yards (248.8 ypg, sixth), rushing yards (82.3 ypg, eighth) and tackles for loss (46.0).
Those efforts have been led by a powerful front seven which is strongest at linebacker. Yawin Smallwood (62 tackles, 11 TFL, 4.0 sacks), Jory Johnson (47 tackles, 3.5 TFL) and Sio Moore (39 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks) are the three men in the middle to watch, while Trevardo Williams (6.5 sacks) has been dangerous up front.
Both of these squads suffer severe weaknesses with Temple rarely able to get much going through the air and Connecticut also stumbling on offense. Connecticut though has the defense to stop the Owls' running game and enough offense itself to prey on what has been a lackluster defensive unit for the Owls.