Temple, ECU aim to end skids, earn second win

Field Level Media

November 18, 2020 at 6:47 am.

Two American Athletic Conference football teams desperate to end four-game losing streaks will meet in Philadelphia on Saturday.

The host Temple Owls (1-5, 1-5 AAC) are slight favorites over the East Carolina Pirates (1-6, 1-5), and that makes sense. After all, the Owls have beaten the Pirates for six straight years, including 27-17 last season.

In that game, a bank of stadium lights shut off with 3:52 left in the fourth quarter, delaying the contest 15 minutes.

That’s the way things have been going lately for the Owls and Pirates. Each team’s only win this season was against South Florida, which is winless in league play. East Carolina beat USF, 44-24. Temple beat USF, 39-37, a week later.

Temple coach Rod Carey, who guided the Owls to an 8-5 record and a bowl game last year in his first season running the program, is struggling with depth. Due in large part to COVID-19 and contact tracing, Carey had only 45 available players — including 16 walk-ons — last week in a 38-13 loss to UCF.

That defeat clinched Temple’s first losing season since 2013.

“I would not have played the past three weeks,” Carey said of the injury/illness issues, “but I am not the decision-maker.”

Meanwhile, East Carolina, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2014, is led by second-year coach Mike Houston, who likely sees the Owls as his best chance to get a second win since the schedule ends next week against 7-2 SMU.

“Both us and Temple have been through so much adversity,” Houston said, “but you keep competing every day. One us will come out with a big win (on Saturday), and that will be something to celebrate in the locker room.”

Temple quarterback Matt Duncan — a true freshman who is 0-for-2 passing in mop-up duty this season — is set to get his first start on Saturday. The 6-1, 215-pounder from South Carolina is in the lineup due to injuries/illnesses to the three players who had been ahead of him on the depth chart.

Most notably, starter Anthony Russo went down with a shoulder injury and then tested positive for COVID-19. He will miss his fourth straight game, but, prior to that, he had given Temple solid play — 68.1 percent passing and nine touchdowns with six interceptions.

One issue for Duncan could be the blocking of a young offensive line that last week played two redshirt freshmen, also due to health issues.

Duncan, who had never taken a college snap before last week, likely will rely on senior running back Tayvon Ruley, who had a strong game last week (23 carries, 90 yards). For the season, Ruley has run for 258 yards and one touchdown.

The strength of the Temple team could be its trio of senior wide receivers: Jadan Blue (41 catches, five TDs), Randle Jones (31 catches, two TDs) and Branden Mack (22 catches, three TDs).

East Carolina is led by junior quarterback Holton Ahlers, a third-year starter who has improved his completion percentage each season (.483, .597, .615). He has thrown for 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions this year.

Last year, Ahlers set school single-game records for TD passes (six) and yards passing (535). He also ranked 12th in the nation in passing yards per game (282.2).

Freshmen running backs Rahjai Harris (559 yards, 4.9 average) and Keaton Mitchell (272 yards, 4.9 average) power the ground attack while Ahlers’ main targets are third-year wide receivers Tyler Snead (43 catches, three TDs) and Blake Proehl (40 catches, two TDs). Snead and Proehl are known as sure-handed receivers who run efficient routes.

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