Houston (1-0) at Temple (0-1)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 7, 12 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Lincoln Financial Field (68,532) -- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Television: ESPN Reg, MASN, ESPN3.com. Home Record: Houston 1-0, Temple 0-0. Away Record: Houston 0-0, Temple 0-1. Neutral Record: Houston 0-0, Temple 0-0. Conference Record: Houston 0-0, Temple 0-0. Series Record: Houston leads, 2-0.
GAME NOTES: The American Athletic Conference will officially kick off when the first league game in the new conference takes place on Saturday with the Houston Cougars visiting the Temple Owls.
Though Houston technically played its first game as a member of the AAC last weekend, the 62-13 win over Southern certainly wasn't a matchup with a member of the league or even one from the FBS level .The former Conference USA squad is now getting set for its first contest against a fellow team from the conference as it tries to build off the opening weekend route. Houston went 5-7 in its final year in C-USA.
As for Temple, its first weekend of the 2013 season ended in much the same way as most of last year's contests; with a loss. The Owls traveled to South Bend to take on No. 14 Notre Dame and came away licking their wounds after a 28-6 setback. The loss came in the head coaching debut of Matt Rhule, who took over at Temple after Steve Addazio left for Boston College. Temple went just 4-7 in Addazio's last season, leaving Rhule with quite the rebuilding project.
Though this season will mark the first time these two teams will share a conference, the Owls and Cougars have faced off before. In the two meetings, Houston has come out on top each time, including a 65-7 rout in the most recent meeting during the 1989 season at the Astrodome.
Houston has made its name as a team that passes early and often. After ranking 15th in the country in total offense last season (479.6 ypg), the Cougars totaled 627 yards of total offense against Southern. However, the running game was the more effective phase for the offense with the Cougars racking up 372 yards on the ground.
The loss of last year's leading rusher Charles Sims, who transferred to West Virginia, had many thinking Houston would lean even more heavily on its passing attack. That wasn't the case against Southern as Ryan Jackson (120 yards, two TDs) and Kenneth Farrow (97 yards) each looked strong. Jackson was especially explosive as he picked up his yardage on just 10 carries.
A partial reason that the Cougars picked up so many yards on the ground was the success of the passing game, as well as a need to put the game away once the score got out of hand. Starting quarterback David Piland played well, completing 15-of-23 pass attempts for 148 yards and a score. John O'Korn (11- of-15, 107 yards, three TDs) came in later in the game and looked strong as well.
Daniel Spencer was the lead receiver in the contest with game-highs in receptions (nine), yards (102) and touchdowns (two). Spencer set career highs in receptions and touchdowns in the contest. Spencer also tallied 45 yards and a touchdown on just a single carry.
Other than finding a back to replace Sims, there wasn't much doubt that Houston would be able to put up points on offense. The key to this season is improving on the 115th worst defense in the country as the Cougars let up 483 yards per game last season.
The early litmus test showed some improvement. Houston gave up 372 yards, in part due to the quick strike offense providing more opportunities for Southern. Houston forced four turnovers but had just one tackle for loss and no sacks, showing there is still room for improvement.
Zach McMillian and Derrick Mathews each tied for a team-high with nine tackles, while each broke up a pass as well. George Bamfo had eight stops and recovered a fumble, while Elandon Roberts had the lone tackle for loss. Efrem Oliphant was the best pass rusher as he recorded two hits on the quarterback.
While offense has been the calling card for Houston, and was again this past weekend, the same cannot be said of Temple. The Owls struggled last season, ranking seventh in the Big East in total offense (322 ypg) and were again weak against the bruising Irish defense.
Connor Reilly earned the starting job under center after Clinton Granger and Chris Coyer, who is now a receiver for the Owls, struggled last season. During the campaign the Owls ranked 116th nationally in passing yards (120.8 ypg). Reilly did manage to top that kind of production with 228 yards against Notre Dame, but he completed just 23-of-46 pass attempts and didn't look comfortable in the pocket for much of the game. Reilly did provide some playmaking ability as he led the team with 65 yards rushing.
It is the run game that has been the hallmark of the Owls' offense of late but the returns against Notre Dame showed regression. Zaire Williams had 33 yards on seven carries as the top ball carrier, besides Reilly. In all the Temple running backs managed just 55 yards with starter Kenny Harper picking up just five yards on six carries, though he did score a touchdown.
Ryan Alderman may have established himself as the go-to receiver for Reilly as he caught four passes for 64 yards. Coyer also had four receptions but mostly on short routes, as he finished with 39 yards.
Further adding to the offensive headaches was the poor play on special teams, especially from kicker Jim Cooper. Considered the accuracy kicker as Paul Layton handles kickoffs, Cooper missed both of his field goal attempts and the extra point after Harper's touchdown run.
A bright spot for Temple was the showing on defense. Although the Owls surrendered 28 points and 355 total yards, both numbers were improvements on Temple's averages last season. In fact, after surrendering touchdowns on the Irish's first two possessions, the Owls really tightened up, forcing punts on five of Notre Dame's final 10 drives.
Tyler Matakevich picked up right where he left off last season when he was named Big East Rookie of the Year. Matakevich recorded 11 tackles, two for loss. He has now had double-digit tackles in eight of his last nine games. Matt Ioannidis recorded the only sack in the contest for the Owls.
Rhule knew when he took on the job that it would be a tough assignment. Temple showed some signs of life against Notre Dame, but not enough to envision the Owls piling up wins this season. With how successful Houston can be throwing the ball, Temple is in trouble, unless Reilly makes drastic improvements during the week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 30, Temple 17
09/04 10:44:50 ET