The No. 23 Memphis Tigers (5-0) will be heading back on the road for the second straight week, this time to take on the Temple Owls (4-1). The last time these two teams played one another was in 2016 when the Tigers outlasted the Owls 34-27 at Liberty Bowl Stadium.
A lot have things changed for both teams in the past three years, but it has been for the better as they both have had significant success during this period.
The Tigers are ranked for the first time this season, and as they continue to get more exposure by having their games broadcast on ESPN, they are beginning to get more notoriety from college football fans who had not paid attention to the AAC otherwise.
Aside from an upset loss to Buffalo, Temple has done an excellent job of beating Power Five opponents, such as Maryland and Georgia Tech, while also handling business in their conference.
It was not their prettiest game of the season, but the Tigers fought hard to earn their 52-33 victory over Louisiana Monroe, their second game of the season with 50 or more points this season.
Freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell exploded against the Warhawks and rushed for a career-high 209 yards with touchdowns. He became the first freshmen in Memphis history to have three straight 100-yard rushing games.
Mike Norvell spoke with the media about Gainwell’s performance and said he knew Gainwell would do big things before the season even started.
“Coming into the season, I was asked who I thought would be the biggest unknown star,” Norvell said. “I used Kenny [Gainwell] as the example every time. I’m excited he’s playing up to the potential he has. I’m really proud of what he’s doing.”
Gainwell is not the only player playing well this season. Quarterback Brady White has also been having a good year and threw for 249 with three touchdowns against the Warhawks.
The Tigers’ defense took a bit of a dip while in Louisiana and allowed a season-high 575 total yards, with 319 of those yards coming through the air.
Luckily for them, they are going to get a significant boost to their secondary with the return of cornerback Chris Claybrooks to their starting lineup.
Claybrooks was having a strong fall camp before an injury kept him out for the team’s first five games of the season.
It is too early to tell how much he will play, but Norvell sees Claybrooks as one of their best players, so do not be surprised to see him making plays, even if it is in a limited capacity.
The Owls are coming off their first conference game of the season where they defeated the East Carolina Pirates 27-17 on the road.
Temple used a balanced attack offensively to defeat the Pirates.
Running back Re’Mahn Davis rushed for a career-high 157 rushing yards and averaged 6.5 rushing yards per carry. He is the team’s leading rusher, despite only being a freshman.
In their passing game, the Owls used both Anthony Russo and Todd Centeio to get 253 passing yards. Russo threw the team’s sole passing touchdown.
Temple’s defense got pressure early and often on ECU’s Holton Ahlers. Temple’s defense sacked him three times and hurried him 13 times.
This was not just a one-off performance for them either. They are the nation’s 20th ranked defense for a reason, and that has not gone unnoticed by Mike Norvell.
When asked about the unit by the media, he was highly complementary and said they were going to make things tough for their offense.
“This is the best defense we have played this year,” Norvell said. “This is one of the best defenses in the country. They have great length, very experienced.”
Though I believe this will be the closest game the Tigers have played this year, I still see them being able to pull out a victory.
Their offense has been clicking in recent weeks, and they will need that to continue if they want a chance to continue their undefeated play and move up the AP rankings.
We already know how talented the Tigers’ running backs are, but this will be decided by what they can do in the passing game.
Temple has the 10th ranked passing defense in the league, but that does not mean that the Tigers should avoid attacking it.
Though he may not have the biggest numbers this year, Damonte Coxie is still one of the best wide receivers in the AAC, and Saturday’s game will be his chance to show that.
Score Prediction: Memphis 27-23 Temple