UofL coach Charlie Strong will have to work hard this week at convincing his players that Saturday's opponent, Temple, poses a threat to the Cardinals' quest for an undefeated season. That's because many of those players, having played on Friday night, no doubt saw Temple's nationally televised game with Pittsburgh on Saturday, when the Owls were trampled 47-17 by the Panthers -- the same Panthers that UofL beat 45-35 three weeks ago.
Temple, which returned to the Big East this season after a seven-year absence, now is 3-4, 2-2. Those two Big East victories came against South Florida and Connecticut, both winless in league play this season. In fact, Pitt was 0-3 in league play until Temple.
Pitt completely dominated Temple, rolling up 528 yards to 324 by the Owls. The best thing to be said for Temple was that it showed good discipline, getting flagged only three times for 27 yards.
To be fair, this figured to be a rebuilding year for the Owls, who were coming off a 9-4 season that included a 37-15 victory over Wyoming in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. But they returned just 10 starters, and among those lost was their star, Bernard Pierce, who scored 27 touchdowns last season. Also lost was four-fifths of their offensive line. In light of all that, second-year Temple coach Steve Addazio called this season "a great challenge for us. As a competitor, whether you are a coach or a player, you love challenges."
The challenge for Charlie Strong this week will be to get his players to focus.
UofL and Temple will kick off at noon, and the game will be televised regionally on ABC. The latter fact could provide motivation for the Cards.
The Owls are offensively challenged, starting with their quarterback, returning starter Chris Coyer (6-3, 230, Jr.). The Owls rank 116th in the country in passing, averaging just 132.7 yards a game. Coyer is 77 of 140 (55 percent) for 870 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions. Coyer also is the Owls' second-leading rusher at 50.6 yards a game, 3.7 yards per rush.
Coyer's backup is Clinton Granger (6-3, 230, Jr.), who has appeared in just four games and is 5 of 9 for 112 yards. He relieved against Pitt and was 2 of 3 for 52 yards while leading a drive that stalled at Pitt's 4-yard line. He may see more action against UofL.
The team's leading rusher is Boston College transfer Montel Harris (5-10, 207, Sr.) with 463 yards (77.2 a game, 4.4 a rush) and four TDs. He ran for 72 yards and a TD against Pitt. He's not much of a receiving threat, having caught only nine passes for 91 yards all season.
The third-leading rusher is speedy senior Matt Brown (5-5, 165), who averages 5.8 yards a rush and 37.3 yards a game. He's also a dangerous return man, averaging 15.2 yards on punts, 11th in the country, and 23.1 yards on kickoffs, 48th in the country. He returned a kickoff 77 yards against Pitt.
With such an ineffective passing attack, Temple's receiving corps doesn't get many opportunities. The leader is converted quarterback Jalen Fitzpatrick (5-11, 180, So.) with 22 catches for 291 yards (41.6 a game, 13.2 a catch) and two TDs. Tight end Cody Booth (6-5, 255, Jr.) is second with 12 catches for 108 yards and three TDs, and no other receiver has double-digit catches.
The O-line, with only senior tackle Martin Wallace (6-6, 300) as a returning starter, has allowed 2.14 sacks a game, 79th in the country.
Senior Brandon McManus is 10 for 13 on field-goal attempts, with a long of 50 yards. He's also averaging 44.7 yards a punt, 13th in the country.
Temple is averaging only 294.4 yards a game, 118th in the country, and 23.1 points a game, 91st in the country.
Temple's defense, which ranked third nationally in scoring (13.9 ppg) behind only Alabama and LSU last season, returned only five starters and had to replace four all-conference picks. The results haven't been bad, only average. The Owls are allowing 161.3 rushing yards a game, 62nd in the country, 246.6 passing yards a game, 77th in the country, and 27.7 points a game, 66th in the country.
The leading tackler is freshman linebacker Tyler Matakevich (6-1, 220) with 56. Second is redshirt freshman LB Nate Smith with 51 tackles, and third is senior DB Justin Gildea (5-11, 190) with 40 tackles. Senior DE John Youboty (6-4, 250) leads in tackles for a loss with four, and in sacks with three.
Freshman DB Tavon Young (5-10, 159) leads in interceptions with two. The Owls have four INTs in all and a turnover ratio of plus-.43, 37th in the country.
Addazio, 53, is in his second season as a college head coach, having been a longtime assistant after a stint as a high school head coach. Before coming to Temple he was an assistant for six years at Florida, the last three as associate head coach and offensive coordinator. The first four he served along with the Cards' Charlie Strong. Among Addazio's other assistant coaching posts were IU, Notre Dame and Syracuse.
UofL and Temple have met five times in a series that dates to 1980, with the Owls holding a 3-2 edge. They won the first three meetings, UofL the last two.
The Cards should romp.