GREENVILLE, N.C. — Temple threw a wrinkle at East Carolina on Thursday evening, and it worked in a 27-17 American Athletic Conference victory.
Backup quarterback Todd Centeio was told during the week that he would play one series in the first half and one in the second in place of starter Anthony Russo. Coach Rod Carey said after the game that Centeio had earned the time during practice.
Afterward, Carey let it be known that this was not a one-game experiment.
“Russo is our quarterback, but Toddy has earned it,” Carey said about playing time.
The Owls (4-1, 1-0 AAC) will host Memphis a week from Saturday in a noon game at Lincoln Financial Field. Memphis (4-0, 1-0) plays at Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.
Here are four takeaways from Thursday’s game:
It certainly worked Thursday. Temple had been struggling and trailed, 7-0, when Centeio came in and led the Owls to a 29-yard Will Mobley field goal.
Centeio is a dynamic runner, but he also showed a good passing touch, completing four of five throws for 45 yards.
“I thought he played really well in a tough atmosphere, came in and ran the ball well and hit a couple of nice passes," Russo said. “He drove the ball down the field, got three points on the first drive, and it was big for us.”
Centeio, who led the Owls to the ECU 38-yard line in his one second-half drive before they were forced to punt, is out to prove he is more than just a running quarterback. He gained just 23 yards on nine carries, but he set the tone by running 13 yards around left end on his first play.
“I just wanted to help the team the best way possible, and they gave me the opportunity to do that and I executed,” Centeio said.
The fact that both quarterbacks are so different will give opposing defensive coordinators a lot to prepare for each week. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Centeio has not only great speed, but also shifty moves that make tacklers miss. Russo (6-4, 230) is a pure drop-back quarterback who has one of the strongest arms in college football.
This looks like a plan that could work. At least in the first week it did.
The Owls committed 12 penalties for 80 yards. On ECU’s opening, 12-play, 90-yard drive that resulted in a 14-yard touchdown reception by C.J. Johnson, Temple was offside three times.
Against a 3-3 ECU team, Temple was able to get away with it. The Owls won’t be as fortunate in their upcoming schedule. Which brings us to ...
The Owls will know by the end of October if they are AAC contenders. The next three games will be against teams ranked in one or more polls this week.
As mentioned, on Oct. 12, Temple will host Memphis, which is No. 23 in USA Today’s Coaches Poll. That will be followed by a game at SMU, No. 24 in the Associated Press poll. After that will come a home game against two-time defending AAC champion Central Florida, No. 18 by AP and No. 19 in the Coaches Poll.
Entering the weekend, UCF, SMU, and Memphis are the top three scoring teams in the AAC.
Temple is allowing 17.2 points a game, and other than a 38-22 loss at Buffalo, the defense has played well. What truly stands out is the speed of the unit.
ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers loves to run to the outside and he hurt the Owls early, with 33 yards rushing on two first-quarter runs, including an 18-yarder on the opening drive. After that, the Owls bottled him up, sacking Ahlers three times. He finished with 26 yards on 11 carries.
After the first quarter, the Owls began forcing everything to the middle, where players such as safety Benny Walls (eight tackles) and middle linebacker Shaun Bradley (six tackles) cleaned up.