FACTS & STATS: Site: Ford Stadium (32,000) -- Dallas, Texas. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Temple 1-3, SMU 1-2. Away Record: Temple 0-3, WSMU 1-2. Neutral Record: Temple 0-0, SMU 0-0. Conference Record: Temple 0-3, SMU 1-1. Series Record: Series tied, 0-0-2.
GAME NOTES: The SMU Mustangs will try to build off their first win in conference play when they bring in the Temple Owls to Ford Stadium for an American Athletic Conference showdown on Saturday.
It may not have been in league action but Temple certainly won't be complaining, as it got its first win with a 33-14 victory over Army last weekend. The win was not only the first for the Owls this season but the first for new head coach for Matt Rhule, who took over for Steve Addazio this year. The win won't wipe away the issues that the Owls have been dealing with as they dropped the first six games of the season before the victory, including all three against the AAC.
For SMU, a tough non-conference schedule that included dates with Texas Tech, Texas A&M and TCU got the Mustangs ready for league play. Although they are just 1-1 against the AAC, the Mustangs' lone loss came by three points in triple overtime against Rutgers, while they grabbed a 34-29 triumph over Memphis last week. That win was the first of the year for the Mustangs against a FBS program.
These teams have without a doubt the most bizarre all-time series among teams in the AAC. The new conference foes have not met since 1946. In that matchup the squads tied, 7-7. They also tied the only other meeting, in 1942, with a 6-6 score.
Surprisingly, Temple did not have its best offensive game of the season in terms of total yards against Army. The Owls had just 361 yards, which was fewer than it had in losses to Notre Dame, Idaho, Fordham and Cincinnati. That is not to say that the Owls have been tearing it up offensively as they rank eighth in the AAC in scoring (18.9 ppg) and total offense (349.9 ypg).
P.J. Walker is here to stay as quarterback for the Owls. Walker took over as the starter for Connor Reilly against Cincinnati and has been effective enough in his time leading the offense. Walker has thrown for 598 yard, five scores and three interceptions on 55 percent passing in two starts and some additional playing time against Fordham and Louisville. Walker also has some ability in escaping the pocket, but is developing as a passer.
Jalen Fitzpatrick and Walker certainly got along last week as Fitzpatrick tallied 128 yards on four receptions, along with a touchdown. Fitzpatrick is leading the team in receptions (22) and touchdowns and is one of two players with more than 300 yards for the Owls.
The running back duo of Kenneth Harper and Zaire Williams was as effective as ever against Army, though Harper missed some time with an injury. The pair combined for 144 yards and two scores in the contest. Harper appears to be set to play this week as he looks to improve on his team-highs in yards (372) and touchdowns (seven). Williams (354 yards, two TDs) will continue to work regardless of whether or not Harper plays.
Where Temple needs improvement is on the defensive side of the ball. The Owls are currently last in the AAC in total defense (486.1 ypg). Tyler Matakevich anchors the unit with a national leading 95 total tackles. That includes 78 solo stops. No other player in the country has more than 47 solo tackles.
SMU has made it no secret that its strategy on offense is to throw early and often. The Mustangs are at the top of the AAC in passing offense (354.5 ypg) and despite being second to last in rushing offense, have still been in the upper half of the league in total offense (449.2 ypg).
A team that passes as often as the Mustangs do, needs a quarterback to play at a high level. Garrett Gilbert has done that for the Mustangs. Gilbert is completing 63.2 percent of his pass attempts for 2,096 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Gilbert has totaled more than 300 yards in all but one game and has shown toughness, as he has been sacked 22 times.
Gilbert has not exactly spread the wealth, with a trio of receivers taking in the majority of his passes. JErem Johnson (62 receptions, 735 yards, four TDs), Darius Joseph (56 receptions, 476 yards, three TDs) and Keenan Holman (32 receptions, 456 yards, three TDs) are formidable. Holman and Johnson were both vital against Memphis as the pair combined for 16 catches, 226 yards and a touchdown.
For SMU the issue has clearly not been the offense. Rather it has been the defensive side of things. The Mustangs are allowing teams to score at an incredible pace this year (40.8 ppg), while letting up more than 420 yards of offense each week. The struggles have come despite the efforts of Kevin Pope (47 tackles. 8.0 TFL) and Beau Barnes (9.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks).
Against a weak defense, Walker and the Owls may be able to produce on the offensive side. However, they will need every yard to keep up with the Mustangs.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: SMU 35, Temple 20
Saturday, October 26, 3 p.m. (et)