No. 22 Temple looks for 1st 7-0 start against East Carolina
GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) No. 22 Temple doesn’t have much time to savor its first national ranking in 35 years.
The Owls (6-0, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) play their first game as a ranked team since 1979 on Thursday night when they visit East Carolina (4-3, 2-1).
In a half-season already full of milestones, Temple is chasing one more – the first 7-0 start in the history of the once-woebegone program.
”I’m really pleased with our progress, pleased to be where we are and we know it’s going to be an unbelievable battle in a really hostile environment on a short week,” coach Matt Rhule said.
The Owls are acting like they’ve been here before – even though they haven’t, not since the ’79 team cracked the Top 25 on its way to the Garden State Bowl.
Quarterback P.J. Walker said it has been ”business as usual.”
”When you’ve got the guys in the upper class that are not even thinking about all the things in terms of all the success that we had … everybody’s just like, `All right, we’re cool, we won that game, let’s get to the next game,” he said. ”I think the young guys are starting to figure it out.”
Maybe that’s because they know firsthand just how quickly a team can tumble back into the relative obscurity of not being ranked anymore.
A year ago, East Carolina surged into the polls after a pair of impressive nonconference wins – only to fall out, never to reappear, after losing a road game in league play.
That opponent? Temple.
Yet Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill is downplaying the revenge angle.
”It wasn’t luck” that Temple won last year, he said. ”I talk about getting better. Let’s play our best game our next game, but play our best game our last game of the year. Temple has a great team and proposes a great opportunity, but a challenge for us. I talk more about preparation. That’s how I’m built and that’s what I believe in.”
Some things to know about the Temple-East Carolina game:
OLD SCHOOL OWLS: Temple is winning games on the strength of a ball-control offense and some tough defense. Jahad Thomas leads the American with an average of 126 yards, and scored three touchdowns in last week’s win over Central Florida. The Owls have the league’s best D, allowing averages of 14.7 points and 295 total yards while intercepting 11 passes.
A GAME OF QUARTERS: Temple has had only two scoreless quarters all season, and the Owls have outscored their opponents 75-9 in their third quarters. They haven’t allowed a second-half touchdown since Sept. 19.
ECU’S TWO QBS: The Pirates list co-starters at quarterback in Blake Kemp and transfer James Summers. Kemp throws for 222 yards per game while Summers burst onto the scene by rushing for 169 yards and two TDs in a win over Virginia Tech. McNeill says he is pleased with how both have handled the situation, calling it ”really unique.”
KEY STAT: East Carolina has lost 14 straight games when scoring 20 or fewer points, a streak that started before McNeill arrived in 2010. The Owls have only allowed two opponents to reach the 20-point mark and the last three teams they’ve faced have combined for just 29 points.
BEATING THE TOP 25: East Carolina has beaten the last two ranked teams it has faced – both Virginia Tech and North Carolina in 2014 – but this is just the third Top 25 conference opponent it has faced in more than a decade. When the Pirates were in Conference USA, they beat No. 18 Houston in 2009 but lost to No. 24 Southern Mississippi in 2011.