Unbeaten Knights head to Philadelphia to face surging Owls
And then there were four. Undefeated teams, that is. With then-No. 1 Georgia falling out of the group after a 40-10 drubbing at now-No. 6 Auburn, only No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Miami, No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 15 UCF — the highest-ranked Group of 5 team — remain perfect thus far in 2017. The Knights have had a tumultuous season to say the least, with two games — against Georgia Tech and Maine — cancelled due to Hurricane Irma and another against FCS opponent Austin Peay added to bring their game count back to 11. Through it all, though, UCF has held steady and dominated every opponent it has played, winning by an average of 28 points in nine games this season.
The Knights (9-0, 6-0 AAC) will try to keep their record unblemished for two more games, arguably the two most difficult on their schedule. Many want to look ahead to the Black Friday showdown between UCF and cross-state rival South Florida, but the Knights will have to get past a Temple team that is on the rise as of late. Needing to win three of its final four games to make a bowl, the Owls (5-5, 3-3) defeated Navy and Cincinnati and are only one win away from guaranteeing a postseason appearance. While the Knights of course have the perfect record, Temple has momentum and will not roll over on Saturday. These teams have only met four times previously, and while the series is tied at two games apiece the Owls have claimed victory in the last two, most recently a 26-25 win in Orlando last season.
UCF at Temple
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: UCF -14
Three Things to Watch
1. UCF claims residency in the end zone
Teams all across the country claim to be potent and put up a lot of points and yards, but no team can argue with UCF, the top-scoring offense in the nation at just under 49 points per game. Sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton has averaged 302 passing yards per game, second in the AAC and ninth nationally. Milton also ranks in the top 15 in the country with 22 touchdown passes and with 17.3 points responsible for per game. He has a formidable cast around him to contribute to the cause. Sophomore running back Adrian Killins Jr. has rushed for a team-leading 599 yards and eight touchdowns, and freshman Otis Anderson has chipped in with 255 yards on 9.1 yards per carry in eight games. Meanwhile, junior wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith is quietly approaching a career year. With 761 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, he is 92 yards away from setting a career high in receiving yards and within reach of his first career 1,000-yard season.
2. Temple causing havoc defensively
What is a generally effective way to slow down a high-flying offense? Get pressure on the quarterback. Temple does a tremendous job of getting to and bringing down opposing quarterbacks, tallying nearly three sacks per game this season, good enough for second in the conference and 22nd nationally. The Owls feature a trio of proven pass rushers in Quincy Roche, Jacob Martin and Sharif Finch, each averaging more than half a sack per game. However, the Knights’ offensive line leads the AAC and sits eighth in the nation with only one sack allowed per game. Whichever line can control the trenches on Saturday will be a significant factor in determining who comes out on top after four quarters.
3. Time of possession
If there is one underappreciated attribute to Temple’s offense, it’s their ability to control the clock and limit opponents’ opportunities. Temple’s 30:28 average time of possession is fourth best in the AAC, a far cry from Navy’s 35:47 but still in the top half of the nation. While not up to the level of Milton and the Knights’ passing game, the duo of redshirt junior Frank Nutile and injured sophomore Logan Marchi have combined to throw for 256 yards per game. With UCF’s prolific scoring offense, holding onto and effectively moving the ball is imperative for the Owls to have any chance to pull the upset.
UCF comes into Saturday’s game with a perfect record and aspirations of playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game. That matchup against South Florida on Black Friday will surely be a difficult test, but it would be a mistake for UCF to look past Temple, especially on the road. The Owls are a win away from securing bowl eligibility, and there would be no better way to do so than by handing UCF its first loss of the year. The Knights have a margin of victory of 18.5 points in each of their four road games, and would love to sustain that against Temple in Philadelphia.
Prediction: UCF 49, Temple 24
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Associate Editor of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
(Top photo courtesy of @UCF_Football)