The 3-1 Temple Owls head south to take on the East Carolina Pirates on national TV Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 8PM (ESPN) with Temple as 13 point road favorites to win the game. Who are the Pirates? What are the top matchups to watch? What are the keys to victory for the Temple Owls?
Temple’s defense did not allow a single point vs Georgia Tech last Saturday. A third quarter safety kept ex-Temple head coach Geoff Collins from being shut out. The star of the game was Temple’s defense, led by Shaun Bradley and Ifeanyi Maijeh. The whole unit had another standout game, holding Georgia Tech’s offense to 2-14 on third down.
Temple will begin their conference play with a showdown vs. East Carolina on Thursday night. Temple is on a five game win streak vs. the Pirates dating back to 2014. In fact, the last time Temple lost to East Carolina was in 1995 when Ron Dickerson was head coach. Temple’s largest margin of victory came in 2018 when Temple won 49-6. Anthony Russo (4 touchdown passes) and the Temple offense led 35-3 at halftime in that game.
Get to know East Carolina University
Similar to Temple, East Carolina brought in a new head coach to lead the Pirates in 2019. Mike Houston comes from James Madison and is one of the most animated coaches you will see in the American Athletic Conference. ECU is coming off a hard fought road victory over Old Dominion 24-21.
The Pirates are led by sophomore quarterback Holton Ahlers, a dual threat QB that has the ability to run the ball on the ground. In fact, he led the Pirates in rushing in 2018 and has more carries and touchdown runs than any running back on the Pirates roster. Ahlers has 3 rushing touchdowns and 185 yards on the ground this season.
Overall, it hasn’t been a great start for Ahlers through the air, who has already thrown more interceptions than he did in 2018. The Pirates offense is 2nd worst in the American in points per game (21.4) and total touchdowns (10) and 9th in total offense (370 yards per game). ECU has the worst pass efficiency in the American Athletic Conference (108.8). Similar to Temple, ECU has struggled on 3rd down this season. They convert 34.2% of their third downs, which is 3rd worst in the conference.
East Carolina’s strength is their defense and their ability to get pressure. Seven starters return for the Pirates’ defense with three on the defensive line. Junior safety Davondre Robinson is the team’s top returning tackler. Senior defensive tackle Alex Turner and senior defensive end Kendall Futrell are the top names to watch out for on the defensive line. Futrell is second in the American with 4 sacks. Sophomore linebacker Gerard Stringer is also playmaker, having recorded 2 interceptions already this season.
East Carolina University has the 5th most interceptions in the conference (5) and is tied for most sacks (5). However, the storyline of the season for ECU has been stopping teams in the red zone. Opposing teams have scored on 14-15 opportunities with 10 touchdowns and 4 field goals. While Temple’s offensive line will no doubt have its hands full on Thursday night, this bodes well for Temple’s offense which hasn’t clicked since the Bucknell game.
Top Matchups to Watch
Jaden Blue vs. A Young Pirates Secondary
Jaden Blue has officially become a bonafide star in the American Athletic Conference. Despite playing one less game than his competition, Jaden Blue is 3rd in receiving yards (402) and receptions (27). This is quite impressive considering the leading receiver for Temple in 2018 was Ventell Bryant with 51 receptions and 690 yards. Jaden Blue could shatter those numbers by the halfway mark of the season.
The Pirates have a very young secondary featuring freshman Ja’Quan McMillian and sophomore Daniel Charles. Charles has 30 total tackles and a quarterback hit while McMillian has 14 total tackles, a forced fumble, 2 interceptions, and 3 breakups. Despite the inexperience, ECU is tied for the most interceptions in the conference and have been impressive. These two will have their hands full with Jaden Blue and Isaiah Wright from Temple.
Holton Ahlers vs. Quincy Roche
Junior defensive end Quincy Roche is the top pass rusher on Temple and seems to be getting better and better. Roche now has 2 sacks, 2 pass deflections, and 2 tackles for loss on the season. He has shown more consistent pressure on the quarterback since the Maryland game. The Quincy Roche and Ifeanyi Maijeh duo has made Temple’s defensive line one of the top lines in the American Athletic Conference.
Quarterback Holton Ahlers is inefficient but does have a knack for the big play. Ahlers hit Blake Proehl for a 72 yard touchdown pass in the second quarter last week that gave the Pirates a 17-3 lead. Holton Ahlers has been sacked 8 times already this season, and Temple’s defensive line must be able to get consistent pressure and avoid the big play.
Blake Proehl vs. Harrison Hand
Harrison Hand, a 6’ junior cornerback who transferred to Temple in the Spring of 2019, continues to be one of the top standouts on the Temple defense. Hand has 20 tackles, a pass deflection, and an interception so far for the Owls. Harrison Hand was the AAC’s Defensive Player of the Week vs. Maryland, and he helped Temple shut down Georgia Tech’s passing game last weekend.
Blake Proehl is the best wide receiver on East Carolina. Proehl has 20 receptions, 283 yards, and 2 touchdowns on the season for the Pirates. Harrison Hand will surely need to be prepared for Blake Proehl’s big play ability. Proehl has had 20+ yard receptions in 3 out of 5 games so far this season for the Pirates.
Kendall Futrell & Alex Turner vs. Isaac Moore & Adam Klein
The bread and butter of the Temple offense is its offensive line, led by offensive tackles Isaac Moore and Adam Klein. Temple had over 200 yards on the ground vs. Georgia Tech, and Anthony Russo was sacked only once. Temple fans should be feeling positive, but it hasn’t been perfect for Temple’s offensive line this season. For such a strong unit, they are 9th in the conference in rushing yards per game.
East Carolina University is 2nd in the conference in sacks this year and pose a giant threat for the Temple Owls. Kendall Futrell and Alex Turner lead a very strong defensive line that will test Temple through and through. Kendall Futrell is a 6’2″ senior who has 6.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks already this season. Alex Turner is a 6’2″ senior with 6 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. This a very strong duo for the Pirates.
Cherry and White Keys to Victory
Establish the Run
Freshman Re’Mahn Davis is slowly becoming the feature running back on the Temple Owls. Davis has 346 yards on the season and 4 total touchdowns in four games. He had 135 rushing yards vs. Georgia Tech, and his 5.8 yards per carry on the season is leading the Owls backfield. It is no secret that establishing the running game for Temple is priority #1, and the offensive line was a standout vs. Georgia Tech.
Get Russo Comfy in the Pocket
After a hot start, Temple quarterback Anthony Russo has cooled off over the last few weeks. Russo completed 9 out of 22 passes for Georgia Tech with an interception and zero touchdowns. Georgia Tech’s strong secondary gave Russo fits all last Saturday. It is paramount for Rod Carey’s high tempo offense to return to form on Thursday night.
Temple had a much better performance vs. Georgia Tech on special teams on Saturday. Temple only had one turnover, which came on a Russo pass in the end zone. Via penalties, fumbles, mistakes in the red zone, and poor special teams, Temple needs to steadily improve in these four facets. Russo has thrown at least one interception in all four games this year. This needs to get better.
Temple Owls vs. East Carolina Pirates Prediction
Temple’s offensive line continues the momentum they established against Georgia Tech and runs through the Pirates. Re’Mahn Davis continues to impress, eclipsing 100 yard and gets two total touchdowns. Anthony Russo has a much more efficient game through the air, and Shaun Bradley continues to lead a strong Temple defense. Temple wins 34-10.