FACTS & STATS: Site: High Point Solutions Stadium (52,454) -- Piscataway, New Jersey. Television: SNY, MASN, ESPN3.com. Home Record: Temple 1-3, Rutgers 3-1. Away Record: Temple 0-4, Rutgers 1-2. Neutral Record: Temple 0-0, Rutgers 0-0. Conference Record: Temple 0-4, Rutgers 1-2. Series Record: Rutgers leads, 19-16.
GAME NOTES: Desperate to put an end to a losing streak and stay relevant in the league title race, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights will battle regional rival Temple in an American Athletic Conference clash at High Point Solutions Stadium.
The Owls are just desperate for a win in general. At 1-7 overall and 0-4 in league play Temple is in last place in the AAC. There are a pair of other winless teams in conference play (Memphis and Connecticut) but each of those squads is 0-3, putting them a half game ahead of the Owls. Temple looked like it might put an end to its conference woes last weekend but it let a 28-7 lead slip away in a 59-49 loss to SMU in Dallas.
Rutgers had two weeks to prepare for its matchup with conference leading Houston last week. It was also playing at home. Neither fact mattered as the Scarlet Knights were pounded, 49-14, by the Cougars to drop to a precarious 1-2 in league play. Rutgers was considered a dark-horse candidate for the AAC crown but it is currently ahead of just Temple, Memphis and UConn in the league standings. The loss to Houston was the first in four tries for Rutgers at home.
Gary Nova threw four touchdown passes and Jawan Jamison rushed for 114 yards to carry the Scarlet Knights to a 35-10 win over Temple last season. These two squads, separated by a little more than 60 miles, have met up 35 times previously. Rutgers has won 19 of those games.
If there was any positive to be taken from the loss to SMU for Temple it was how well the offense played. In the losing effort the Owls not only produced a season-high in points, but also in total yards (593). It was the first time this year the Owls have had more than 410 yards of offense and just the second time over 400.
P.J. Walker has taken complete control of the starting quarterback job. Connor Reilly opened the year as the starter but struggled. Walker has been the starter in the last three games and even saw some time against Cincinnati. All he has done is throw for 891 yards and eight touchdowns, while completing 60.8 percent of his passes. Walker was sensational against SMU as he threw for a career-high 293 yards and four touchdowns, while showing how dangerous he can be on the ground with a team-high 92 yards.
Prior to Saturday's contest, Ryan Alderman (24 receptions, 347 yards, two TDs) and Jalen Fitzpatrick (26 receptions, 327 yards, three TDs) had been the primary receivers for Temple. Robby Anderson changed that with just a single record-setting performance as he brought in nine passes for a program-record 239 yards and two scores.
Zaire Williams (427 yards, two TDs) and Kenneth Harper (414 yards, eight TDs) share the rushing duties as a productive tandem for Temple.
While the offense has begun to show life, the defense for Temple has continued to be less effective each week. The Owls were ripped apart to the tune of 728 total yards against SMU. It was a season-wort for the Owls, who are already last in the AAC in total defense (516.4 ypg). With teams piling up the yards, Tyler Matakevich has been a tackling machine, as he leads the nation in total (103) and solo stops (82).
Nova is still the man under center for Rutgers. At least he is projected to be. Nova has been miserable in the last two weeks with just 26 completions and seven interceptions in the last two games. Things got so bad against Houston that Chas Dodd was brought in. Overall, Nova has thrown for 1,511 yards and 14 scores this season but he has been plagued with ball security issues (11 INTs) and poor protection (19 sacks).
Leading rusher Paul James missed his third straight game against Houston but the Scarlet Knights have been lucky in having Justin Goodwin as a backup. Goodwin tallied 161 yards and two scores on 31 carries against Houston and has rushed for more than 100 yards in two of the last three weeks. He will likely be called on again since James is listed as questionable with a leg injury.
In terms of pass-catching threats, Leonte Carroo (17 receptions, 308 yards, seven TDs) and Brandon Coleman (20 receptions, 286 yards, two TDs) are the most productive wideouts, while Tyler Kroft (19 receptions, 299 yards, three TDs) is a solid tight end. The trio combined for just two catches for 42 yards against Houston.
Rutgers season has been marred by an extreme regression on the defensive side of the ball. The Scarlet Knights led the Big East in a number of defensive categories last season, but this year they are in the bottom half in scoring (30.1 ppg) and total defense (422.3 ypg). Steve Longa is leading the team in tackles (68) and tackles for loss (6.0), while Marcus Thompson (4.5 sacks) is the best pass rusher.
If Rutgers has any hope of being in the conversation for the AAC crown it will need a great deal of luck going forward. For now the Scarlet Knights need to control what they can and that starts with Nova taking care of the ball. That should be an easy task against a Temple defense that, outside of Matakevich, is full of holes.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rutgers 34, Temple 17
Saturday, November 2, 12 p.m. (et)