After losing back-to-back games for the first time in two seasons, Memphis football will hope to end its losing streak against Temple Saturday.
Tigers’ football coach Justin Fuente, who has seen Memphis fall to No. 19 Navy and No. 13 Houston in its last two games, said he knows the Tigers have another tough challenge against an Owls team (8-2, 5-1 American Athletic Conference) that is currently leading the AAC East Division.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for (Temple coach) Matt Rhule and I consider him to be a friend of mine,” Fuente said. “They have a tough nosed, blue collar football team and they will line up and try to run over you. They play really fantastic defense and are really solid on special teams. I know they tumbled a little bit last week and I know it was disappointing to them. So, I know that he will have them ready to play. We need a great week of preparation and I am confident that we will get that. I am also confident in our kids and the ownership of this team. There will be a willingness to put up a fantastic effort.”
The Tigers (8-2, 4-2 AAC) may be eliminated from the AAC title game contention and with no shot a New Year’s Six Bowl, but they still have a lot to play for. With wins against Temple and SMU, Memphis can win 10 regular season games for only the second time in program history (1938).
However, there was one positive for the Tigers when the weekly College Football Playoff Rankings were released Tuesday. Memphis remained at No. 21, a testament to the respect Fuente and the program have earned, nationally, over the past year. The AAC currently has three teams in the playoff rankings (Navy and Houston) and has seen its stock rise, this season as well, which bodes well for Memphis and the AAC going forward.
Memphis will hope to move up the College Football Playoff Rankings and earn its way back to into both major polls with a win against Temple. Last season’s game between Temple and the Tigers ended with a Jake Elliott game-winning field goal and Memphis earned bowl eligibility as they defeated the Owls 16-13.
Paxton Lynch and the Tiger offense, which has scored only 54 points in the past two weeks (it was averaging more than 47 points per game before the losing streak), will hope to rebound against a Temple defense that has shown cracks in its armor in recent weeks. The Owls gave up 40 points in a 60-40 win over SMU two weeks ago, before falling to USF 44-23 last weekend in Tampa. Despite the recent slip-ups, the Owls’ defense is ranked 36th nationally in total defense, giving up 21 points per game.
While the Memphis defense limited Greg Ward Jr., fatigue and turnovers by the offense caught up with them in the fourth quarter collapse against Houston. Though Temple is not known as an offensive firepower, the Owls’ offense is averaging nearly 33 points per game (tied for 44th in the nation). Quarterback P.J. Walker, who has thrown 15 touchdowns to just five interceptions, leads the Temple offense.
“Well the simple fact of having an athlete like P.J. Walker in the backfield who is able to run and throw,” said Tigers’ defensive end Ernest Suttles, when asked about the challenges Temple’s offense will pose Saturday. “He has two big targets on the outside with two big (running) backs, so they can rush and throw. It’s a simple fact of the defense being shore, being in the right place at the right time. Limiting the mistakes we have, because that’s a team and an offense that will exploit those mistakes, so we just have to do what we have to do.”
Memphis and Temple will kickoff at 11 a.m. Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, who leads the Tigers’ offense, has thrown for 3,293 yards, 21 touchdowns and just three interceptions this season.