The Tulsa Golden Hurricane will make one of the longest in-conference road trips of the season — nearly 1,300 miles — to face the Temple Owls in Philadelphia. The Thursday night kickoff means that both Tulsa and Temple will open AAC play on a short week. The Owls hope to carry over the momentum of a 35-14 win over Maryland, in which they shook off an 0-2 start to pull off a major upset, while the Golden Hurricane, also 1-2 overall, have lost two in a row after falling to Arkansas State 29-20 at home.
Tulsa at Temple
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 20 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Temple -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback questions
Tulsa quarterback Luke Skipper wrestled the starting role away from Chad President midway through last season and entered 2018 atop the depth chart. In three starts this year, Skipper has completed 61.3 percent of his passes (up from 55.9 percent a year ago) for 521 yards and four TDs with three interceptions. He has also added 109 rushing yards and one score on 29 carries.
Skipper has held off President, a junior, and redshirt freshman Seth Boomer, but there is still some thought within the fan base that the quarterback job isn’t fully settled yet. One cause for concern is Skipper’s 6.9 yards per pass attempt, which is a sharp drop-off from the 9.0 mark (second best in the AAC) he posted in 2017.
Temple QB Frank Nutile also earned the starting nod at quarterback midway through the 2017 season, and his performance was a big reason the Owls won four of their final five games. Nutile threw for 1,600 yards with a 12-to-7 TD-to-interception ratio as a junior. He started the first two games of the 2018 season and completed 52.4 percent of his passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns with four interceptions in those two contests, but he sat out Week 3 with an undisclosed injury.
Though Nutile was shaky in losses to Villanova and Buffalo, it’s worth noting that head coach Geoff Collins reaffirmed his faith in the senior in the days leading up to the Maryland game. But it’s also worth noting that Anthony Russo performed well in Nutile’s absence. Russo completed 15-of-25 passes for 228 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and the Owls racked up 429 total yards and averaged 5.36 yards per play against its toughest opponent to date despite averaging 303 yards per game and 4.97 yards per play through Week 2. Most importantly, Russo led the team to its first win of the season.
Nutile appears likely to return against Tulsa, but it’s unclear whether or not he will start. Even if he does, because of last week’s results, Russo could force himself back into action.
2. The running backs
The questions that surround each team’s quarterback situation are nowhere to be found at running back, as both squads rely on workhorses in the backfield. Temple senior Ryquell Armstead currently ranks sixth in the AAC with 54 carries. Though he has yet to find the end zone, Armstead sits No. 7 on the conference leaderboard with 256 rushing yards after posting back-to-back 100-yard performances against Buffalo and Maryland.
Tulsa’s primary ball carrier, sophomore Shamari Brooks, has also broken the century mark twice so far. Brooks has racked up 310 yards on 70 carries — numbers that rank second and fifth in the league, respectively — and has scored four touchdowns.
3. Big plays on defense
Tulsa and Temple are very similar offensively, and though the two have also posted similar numbers in major statistical categories on defense, the largest difference has been Temple's ability to make momentum-changing plays on the defensive side of the football.
The Owls were very disruptive on defense in the win last week. Temple held the Terrapins to just 63 passing yards on 8-for-21 passing and picked off two passes, one of which was returned 78 yards for a touchdown by Shaun Bradley. The Owls also recorded seven sacks against Maryland, including 2.5 by Michael Dogbe. Overall, Temple has forced four turnovers and ranks second in the AAC and 21st nationally with 9.0 sacks. Meanwhile, Tulsa has gotten to the quarterback just four times overall, which ranks seventh in the league and 93rd in the country. More troubling, the Golden Hurricane have yet to intercept a pass.
Temple’s big-play capabilities — and especially its pass rushing ability — could be a big factor, because the Tulsa offensive line has been shaky in non-conference play: The Golden Hurricane have surrendered eight sacks already this season.
Temple visited Tulsa in the 2017 regular season and came away with a 43-22 victory, which sealed a bowl bid for the Owls. The loss was Tulsa’s tenth of the 2017 season and marked an incredible turnaround from a 10-win campaign in 2016. The Golden Hurricane entered this season with modest expectations and enter conference play with the same 1-2 record as their cross-division opponents.
Both teams have the talent to go bowling in 2018, and though Temple stumbled to a 0-2 start in non-conference play, a big win over a Big Ten team boosted confidence heading into AAC play, and the Owls should still be considered a contender in the AAC East. Temple also has a major advantage this week given the short week and Tulsa's long trip to Philly. Throw in an edge making big plays on defense, and the Owls should start conference play 1-0.
Prediction: Temple 28, Tulsa 17
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
(Top photo by Zamani Feelings, courtesy of owlsports.com)