TEMPLE TRAVELS TO TULSA SEEKING BOWL ELIGIBILITY
Despite playing host to one of the nation’s four remaining undefeated programs, Temple served as its own worst enemy this past Saturday, committing five turnovers in a 45-19 loss to No. 15 UCF. With bowl eligibility on the line, the Owls aim to lock up their third straight postseason appearance as they take to the road for a post-Thanksgiving matchup against Tulsa, with the game set to kickoff Saturday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. ET (3:00 p.m. CT), air nationally on ESPNews and air on local radio on 610 AM WTEL.
The current senior class enters the game tied with the class of 2011 for a school record 31 wins and will compete in their final regular season game wearing Temple cherry and white.
This past weekend, Temple (5-6, 3-4 American) was unable to find any offensive rhythm despite three consecutive strong performances from the unit dating back to Army. Following three early drives with some promise (resulting in a missed field goal, made field goal and touchdown), the Owls consistently struggled to put together lasting possessions, turning the ball over five times throughout the game (four interceptions, one fumble). The lone highlight came early in the fourth quarter from WR Adonis Jennings, as the redshirt senior grabbed a deep bomb, shook off a would-be tackler and jogged the remaining 20 yards for the score. The 74-yard touchdown currently serves as the longest play from scrimmage by the Temple offense this year, not to mention Jennings’ career-long reception.
Meanwhile, the Owls’ defensive front played in less than desirable situations throughout the entire game, as the five turnovers consistently set the UCF offense up with short fields. Relatively speaking, the unit held up well, containing the nation’s top scoring offense to less than 400 total yards on the day. Redshirt senior DL Jullian Taylor topped the statistical charts for the first time this year, managing a career best in tackles (10) and TFLs (4.5), and fellow redshirt senior DE Sharif Finch put together yet another two-sack game, adding four tackles with three tackles-for-loss.
The Owls must now turn their attention to Tulsa (2-9, 1-6 American), a program with a deceptively bad record. On the year, the Golden Hurricane have suffered five losses by a combined 23 points, including last week’s seven-point stumble to USF and two back-to-back three point games in non-conference.
LAST TIME vs. TULSA
Temple last locked facemasks with the Golden Hurricane midway through the 2014 campaign, knocking off Tulsa 35-24 at Lincoln Financial Field. Knotted at 21 apiece entering the final period, QB Phillip Walker guided the Owls to two fourth quarter touchdowns to secure the win.
The victory served as Temple’s first against Tulsa in school history, having previously lost the only two prior meetings during a 1987-88 home-and-home series. When the Owls travel to face off against the Golden Hurricane on Saturday, they will have the opportunity to earn the program’s first win at Tulsa.
TAYLOR-MADE FOR PENETRATION
For the first time in his four years competing with the Owls, Jullian Taylor led the Temple defense in tackles, accumulating a career-high 10 – eight solo and two assists – this past Saturday against No. 15 UCF. More notably, however, the redshirt senior consistently made his presence felt in the Knights’ backfield, racking up a career-best 4.5 tackles-for-loss as the Owls’ defense held QB McKenzie Milton and UCF, the nation’s top scoring offense, under 400 total yards for the first time all season.
A QUARTERBACK & HIS WIDEOUT
Despite an impressive recovery over the course of the previous three games (Army, Navy & Cincinnati), the Temple offense struggled to find any traction when facing off against an experienced UCF unit on Saturday. In the second half, the Owls only managed to score once, but the play has the added bonus of chalking up some space in the season record books. Early in the fourth quarter, redshirt junior QB Frank Nutile dropped a bomb into WR Adonis Jennings down the seam in the center of the field, and then watched the redshirt junior wideout go to work. Jennings wrenched the ball away from his defender, shimmied out of a tackle and jogged the remaining 20 yards for a 74-yard touchdown, good for the longest play from scrimmage this year. Further, the pass was a career-long reception for Jennings and throw for Nutile. Since the redshirt junior signal-caller took over under center four games ago, the duo has wrecked havoc upon opposing secondaries, connecting for 293 yards and four touchdowns, each of which was 34 yards or more.
EVEN AGAINST THE WEST
Since 2011, Temple football has squared off with 12 programs west of the Mississippi River, settling at an even 6-6 in those contests. Most notably, the Owls knocked off Wyoming in the 2011 Gildan New Mexico Bowl for the program’s first postseason victory since 1979, when Temple defeated California in the Garden State Bowl. In terms of the Temple’s record against the state of Oklahoma, Saturday’s matchup in Tulsa will serve as an opportunity for the Owls to move closer to evening the score, as they currently sit at 2-5 all-time (1-1 vs. Oklahoma, 0-2 vs. Oklahoma State & 1-2 vs. Tulsa).
THE POSTSEASON PUSH
Prior to Al Golden taking over the program in 2006, Temple football wasn’t exactly synonymous with postseason eligibility. However, under Golden and every tenured coach since then, the Owls have reached the six-win mark six times (2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015 & 2016) and attended four bowls, including one in each of the past two seasons. In games that would qualify Temple to reach bowl eligibility, the Owls have been especially dangerous, boasting four years where they clinched on their first try.
A BACKFIELD THREE-PEAT
The harassment statistics of DE Sharif Finch have been well-documented this season, as the redshirt senior surpassed his season-best in sacks midway through the schedule (previously 2.0 sacks in 2015, reached 3.0 Week 6 at ECU). As the year has progressed, though, Finch has only become more of a threat, compiling two sacks on three separate occasions, including this past Saturday against UCF. Further, the redshirt senior has accumulated 14.5 tackles-for-loss for the season, coincidentally racking up three or more TFLs in three separate games as well (UMass, Navy & UCF). In terms of where he stands nationally, Finch currently ranks 21st (2nd in the AAC) in tackles-for-loss and 23rd (4th in the ACC) in sacks.
Temple has suffered a slew of tough injuries throughout the course of this season, losing a number of both starters and back-ups at nearly every position. A notable shortage has popped up at linebacker, as both starting weak-side backer Chapelle Russell and reserve Isaiah Graham-Mobley have been sidelined recently. Fortunately for the Owls, depth across the program has unleashed junior Todd Jones, a former walk-on who has grabbed more combined tackles the past two games (13) than he had in his previous 14 appearances with Temple (9). Similarly, redshirt freshman Vincent Picozzi has filled in at left guard since week four at USF, redshirt junior David Hood has done work as a running back dating back to week six at ECU (two career-high rushing games) and redshirt junior Frank Nutile took over the quarterback position in week eight, all due to injuries plaguing the original starters.
A FIRST, AND PERHAPS A LAST
Keith Kirkwood didn’t start his career as an Owl, instead taking his talents at wide receiver to the University of Hawai’i for the first year of his collegiate eligibility. As a sophomore, the New Jersey native was granted a hardship waiver to transfer immediately, and decided upon Temple, a program much closer to home. Midway through the 2014 campaign, Kirkwood arrived on campus, and his first game with the Owls came against Tulsa later that same week. With the program currently hanging on the fringe of postseason eligibility, the Owls’ season-finale road trip to face the Golden Hurricane may also serve as Kirkwood’s last time clad in cherry and white.