Temple (0-0) at Vanderbilt (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, August 28, 9:15 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Vanderbilt Stadium (40,350) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: SEC Network. Home Record: Temple 0-0, Vanderbilt 0-0. Away Record: Temple 0-0, Vanderbilt 0-0. Neutral Record: Temple 0-0, Vanderbilt 0-0. Conference Record: Temple 0-0, Vanderbilt 0-0. Series Record: Series is tied, 1-1.
GAME NOTES: The 2014 season kicks off for the Temple Owls and the Vanderbilt Commodores on Thursday night in a non-conference bout at Vanderbilt Stadium.
In Matt Rhule's first season at the helm as head coach, Temple endured a dismal season, winning just two of its 12 matchups while finishing tied for last place in the American Athletic Conference at 1-7. It did manage to end the year on a high note, however, by capturing a 41-21 road victory at Memphis on Nov. 30.
The Owls have won just six games over the past two seasons after collecting 26 victories from 2009-11.
The 2013 season got off to a rather sluggish start for the Commodores, as they found themselves just 4-4 heading into the final month of the season, but they ended the campaign red-hot, closing out with five consecutive victories to finish up at 9-4 overall and 4-4 in SEC action. Their final win came in the BBVA Compass Bowl with a 41-24 drubbing of Houston. It was the squad's third straight bowl appearance (and second straight win) after qualifying for just four bowls from 1955-2008.
Unfortunately, Vanderbilt's success in recent seasons led to the departure of James Franklin. The man who built the program up from obscurity, going 24-15 in three seasons, departed to fill the head coaching void at Penn State. Filling Franklin's shoes in 2014 will be Derek Mason, who spent the last three seasons as the defensive coordinator for Stanford.
Each side has defeated the other once in the all-time series, with Vanderbilt winning the last time out in 2006 (43-13).
The Owls were unspectacular on offense a season ago, putting up a modest 24.9 ppg and 399.0 ypg, but after a strong showing by their freshman quarterback in 2013, things may be looking up.
P.J. Walker stepped into the starting role midway through the season and performed as well as anyone could have hoped, completing 60.8 percent of his passes for 2,084 yards with 20 touchdowns to just eight interceptions while rushing for an additional 332 yards and three scores.
Walker is just one aspect of a solid rushing attack for Temple. Kenneth Harper (613 yards, nine TDs) and Zaire Williams (533 yards, three TDs) are expected to continue their committee duties, although they will need to do so behind a depleted offensive line that returns only one starter.
With the loss of their two top receivers Robbie Anderson and Ryan Alderman, the Owls will need to rely on Jalen Fitzpatrick (38 receptions, 429 yards, three TDs) and John Christopher (31 receptions, 331 yards, two TDs) as their go-to pass catchers.
The main reason for Temple's struggles last season was a porous defense, which allowed 29.8 ppg and 474.2 ypg.
The unit will benefit from the return of one of the nation's most prolific tacklers in linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who racked up 137 stops in addition to 11.5 TFL, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a pick. Nate D. Smith (66 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks) also returns to a solid linebacking corps.
Tavon Young (51 tackles, INT) is the only returning member of the secondary, which might not be a bad thing for a unit that only picked off three passes and ranked in the bottom-five nationally in pass defense (298.6 ypg).
In 2013, the Commodores enjoyed their most successful offensive season since the 1910s, putting up 30.1 ppg.
The squad will have to move on from Austyn Carta-Samuels under center. Supplanting him as the starter is Patton Robinette (.523 completion percentage, 642 yards, four TDs, five INTs, seven rushing TDs in 2013), although redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary is waiting in the wings.
Jerron Seymour didn't wow anyone with his explosion last season, turning 164 carries into just 716 yards (4.4 ypc), but he had a nose for the end zone with 14 scores. Brian Kimbrow (341 yards, three TDs) also returns to the backfield.
Vandy has a big void to fill out wide now that Jordan Matthews, the SEC's all- time leading receiver, is suiting up on Sundays for the Philadelphia Eagles. With Jonathan Krause (42 receptions, 714 yards, three TDs) also graduated, Jordan Cunningham and C.J. Duncan are listed at the top of the depth chart hoping to lead an inexperienced bunch of receiving threats.
The Commodores held their own in an SEC known for its stout defenses by ranking fifth in yards allowed per game (354.8 ypg), but their scoring defense (24.6 ppg) ranked in the bottom half of the league. The insurgence of Mason's defensive game planning, a scheme that allowed Stanford to rank in the top-15 nationally in defensive efficiency in each of the past three seasons, should benefit the unit immediately.
The team welcomes back six starters to the front seven, anchored by one of the conference's best linebacking trios in Darreon Herring (84 tackles, INT), Caleb Azubike (9.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks) and Kyle Woestmann (40 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks).
The secondary was the unit's strength last season, but all four starters have left, including last year's leading tackler Kenny Ladler (91 tackles, five INTs, five FF) and shutdown corner Andre Hal (three INTs, 18 passes defended).
Temple could be on to bigger and better things this season if its impressive young quarterback continues to progress, but it won't have much hope beginning the season with a hostile road game in the SEC. Vanderbilt's identity is still a big question mark moving forward, but a strong start here seems inevitable.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vanderbilt 34, Temple 17
08/28 17:44:11 ET