Memphis Tigers
Memphis-Temple Preview
Memphis Tigers

Memphis-Temple Preview

Published Nov. 18, 2015 12:00 a.m. ET

Temple made its near-certain trip to American Athletic Conference's inaugural championship game far more difficult last weekend, but Memphis played itself out of the picture entirely in a stunning 13-minute span.

The cross-division foes meet Saturday in Philadelphia with the Owls potentially needing a win over the Tigers to remain in control of their own destiny as the team they just lost to lurks a game back.

While it's Memphis (8-2, 4-2 AAC West) which remained in the College Football Playoff rankings at No. 21 after last Saturday's 35-34 loss at Houston, Temple (8-2, 5-1 AAC East) dropped from the CFP and AP polls following a 44-23 defeat at South Florida.

The Owls fell behind by three touchdowns at halftime and were unable to recover, and the Tigers led unbeaten Houston - then No. 16 in the AP poll - 34-14 early in the fourth quarter before a comprehensive meltdown.


"Everyone is heartbroken; things like this come a dime a dozen," Memphis linebacker Wynton McManis said. "Sometimes you win them, sometimes you lose them. It was very quiet (in the locker room), and people are down."

It was their second straight loss after an 8-0 start had them eying at least an appearance in the league championship. That's out of the question now that they're two games back of Houston and Navy with two games remaining and head-to-head losses to both.

"It will be interesting to see how we continue to move forward," coach Justin Fuente said Monday. "... I felt like they responded pretty well yesterday. I am interested to see how they how they will respond as we continue to work to make sure guys are at treatment and continue to do little things that give us a chance. I think it is too early for me to answer that but I am pretty optimistic that they will come together."

The Owls, meanwhile, remain a game up on South Florida with a home finale against Connecticut coming a week from now, and clinching the division is off the table until then unless they beat Memphis and the Bulls slip up at home against Cincinnati on Friday.

Their coach isn't discounting two months of success because of one loss, albeit an ugly one.

"They know where they stand. They've earned the right to control their own destiny," Matt Rhule said of his players, who have dropped two of three, though the first loss came out of the league to Notre Dame. "They won eight games. That's a credit, but we have to get back to playing better football."

That probably begins on the defensive side of the ball. Temple has won the turnover battle over the last three weeks with a plus-3 margin, but it's given up an average of 473.3 yards of total offense in that span. South Florida tagged the Owls for 556, including 326 on the ground.

"We have a lot to fix," Rhule said.

Despite Memphis' recent letdown, it's probably not the team to correct defensive issues against. The Tigers' five turnovers the last two weeks come after committing six in their perfect start, which has slowed them some, but they're still sixth in the FBS in scoring at 43.7 points per game and seventh in total yardage at 541.0.

Quarterback Paxton Lynch has thrown interceptions in consecutive games after being picked off once in 285 attempts over the first eight, but he's still been effective in those games with three TDs and 7.99 yards per attempt.

Counterpart P.J. Walker has just had trouble finding receivers in the losses. Against Notre Dame and South Florida, the Temple quarterback completed 42.3 percent of his throws. The running game also stalled with 3.6 yards per rush - the same mark Memphis has held opponents to for the season.

"We feel like it's in our hands, and we feel good about it," Walker said. "We've just got to go out there and play our best ball for the next two games."


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