Gameday preview: Houston

John DiCarlo, Editor
Owl Scoop

AT A GLANCE

Temple (2-2) at Houston (2-1)

Saturday, Sept. 30, Lincoln Financial Field, noon

Television: ESPNU

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Head coaches:

Temple

Geoff Collins (Western Carolina ’94)

Overall record: 2-2 (first season)

Record at Temple: 2-2 (first season)

Houston

Major Applewhite

Overall record: 2-1 (first season)

Record at Houston: 2-1 (first season)

KEY PLAYERS

TEMPLE

QB Logan Marchi – 64 of 119 passing (53.7 completion percentage), 5 touchdowns, 3 interceptions

QB Frank Nutile – 4 of 12 passing, 57 yards, 1 interception; saw time in last week’s loss at USF

RB Ryquell Armstead – 59 carries for 180 yards (3.1 yards per carry)

WR/DE Keith Kirkwood – 12 receptions for 185 yards (15.4 yards per catch), 2 touchdowns; Did not catch a pass last week, leads the team in receiving.

WR Isaiah Wright – 10 catches for 194 yards, 1 touchdown

S Delvon Randall – Team-high 35 tackles, 3.0 tackles for a loss, 1 sack

LB Chapelle Russell – Second on the team with 34 tackles, 2.5 TFLs

HOUSTON

QB Kyle Allen – 80 of 104 passing, 771 yards, 4 touchdowns, 4 interceptions; leads the nation in completion percentage at 76.9 percent.

QB Kyle Postma – 11 of 18 passing, 145 yards, 1 TD; 58 yards rushing on 6 carries; took over last week against Texas Tech when Allen was benched.

WR Linell Bonner – Team highs of 26 receptions for 257 yards, 2 touchdowns.

DT Ed Oliver – 22 tackles, 3.5 TFLs

S Khalil Williams – 6 TFLs, 2 sacks

When Temple’s on offense

After last week’s unsightly 43-7 loss at USF in which the Owls gained just 85 yards, things have nowhere to go but up, it would seem. But like Houston, Temple heads toward Saturday without having named its starting quarterback.

Starter Logan Marchi and backup Frank Nutile combined to go 7 of 25 passing for just 89 yards and four interceptions last Thursday in Tampa, with Marchi throwing three of them. True freshman Todd Centeio got in again, but he was sacked on consecutive plays, and that was it.

Temple coach Geoff Collins said Marchi and Nutile would compete in practice this week for the right to start Saturday, and that Centeio and fourth-string quarterback Anthony Russo could get some reps as well. Regardless of who is under center, the Owls have to find some sort of offensive identity and fast. And they need to be able to run the football.

Whether they’re running him out of the shotgun or out of the I-formation with fullback Nick Sharga as his lead blocker, Ryquell Armstead hasn’t been able to get much going. The junior has just 180 yards on 59 carries, a modest average of just 3.1 yards per carry. The junior has actually lost 40 yards on the ground in four games and has yet to find the end zone.

And if Temple wants to reestablish the run, or maybe even establish it for the first time this season, the Owls will have to do it against one of the top interior linemen in the country in sophomore defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who has 22 tackles and 3.5 tackles for a loss after notching a conference-best 23 tackles for a loss, which ranked him second nationally in that category. As a true freshman, the 6-foot-3, 290-pound former 5-star recruit was named a first team All-American by seven national news outlets.

The bad news for Temple is that left guard Jovahn Fair is likely to miss his second straight game with an undisclosed leg injury he suffered two weeks ago against UMass. Without him, Adrian Sullivan is likely to start in his place, and offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude could rotate Vincent Picozzi and Jaelin Robinson at guard to give Sullivan and right guard Brian Carter some help, along with redshirt freshman center Matt Hennessy. If this group can somehow keep Oliver in check, it would be a huge confidence boost that could jumpstart a line that needs a jolt pretty badly. And if Temple can finally move the line of scrimmage and get Armstead going, they could or maybe even should win the game.

But as of now, the Owls are staring at some cringe-worthy numbers: They’re ranked dead last in The American in scoring offense (17 points per game), total offense (288.8 yards per game) and rushing offense (69.8 yards per game). They have also allowed the most sacks (11) of anyone in the conference.

When Temple’s on defense

Former Temple killer Greg Ward is gone and in the NFL as a member of the Eagles’ practice squad. And like the Owls, Houston is having some issues at quarterback. Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen leads the nation in completion percentage at 76.9 percent and has completed 80 of his 104 passes for 771 yards and four touchdowns, but he’s also thrown four interceptions and was benched midway through the fourth quarter last week in favor of Kyle Postma, who completed 8 of his 13 attempts for 100 yards and a touchdown while running for another in a comeback effort that fell short in a 27-24 loss to Texas Tech.

Also like Temple, Houston hasn’t run the ball with much success. The Cougars are ninth in the conference in rushing offense and don’t have a back among the top 10 rushers in the league. Duke Catalon is the Cougars’ leading rusher with 150 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries, and Dillon Birden has tallied 111 yards, two touchdowns and a 5.0 yards-per-carry average.

Whoever does start under center will be throwing to the leading receiver in The American in Linell Bonner, who has 26 catches for 257 yards and two touchdowns.

Although there was little to smile about last week in a 43-7 loss, defensive coordinator Taver Johnson’s unit did have some promising moments despite constantly being put in bad field position due to turnovers. Temple, despite its struggles, leads the conference with 15 sacks. Redshirt freshman Quincy Roche, who got three of his four sacks two weeks ago against UMass, has shown promise, and fellow defensive end Jacob Martin (three sacks) is playing like the senior leader Temple needs him to be.

A young linebacking corps that’s been in trial-by-fire training all season is getting a boost from redshirt sophomore Chapelle Russell. Less than a year removed from ACL surgery, the Lakewood, New Jersey product is second on the team with 34 tackles and 2.5 TFLs. He’ll switch from his No. 22 to wear No. 1 this week, Collins said Tuesday.

Extra points

Saturday marks the return of Mark D’Onofrio. Houston’s defensive coordinator was Temple’s defensive coordinator under Al Golden from 2006 to 2010. The former Penn State linebacker was twice under consideration for the Owls’ head coaching job. Despite having the chance to be his successor on North Broad Street, D’Onofrio opted instead to follow Golden to Miami, and then D’Onofrio interviewed for the job again after Steve Addazio left Temple for Boston College, but the job went to Matt Rhule instead. … Temple and Houston last met in 2015 in the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship game at TDECU Stadium in Houston. The Cougars, with the help of Greg Ward, beat the Owls, 24-13. … Temple coach Geoff Collins and Houston’s Major Applewhite are both in their first year with their respective programs, and they’ve worked together before. On Nick Saban’s 2007 Alabama staff, Collins was the director of player personnel and Applewhite was the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator.

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