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Temple ready for high-powered Memphis offense

The 5-0 Tigers are averaging 39.8 points per game.

Temple's defense will be tested Saturday when it faces No. 23 Memphis.
Temple's defense will be tested Saturday when it faces No. 23 Memphis.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Something that has gone under the radar during Temple’s 4-1 start has been the play of the defense. Yes, the Owls were torched in their 38-22 loss to Buffalo, but the offense put them in poor position with four turnovers and a 40-yard loss on a botched punt snap.

Even with that game, Temple is first in the American Athletic Conference and 19th nationally in the stat that counts most: scoring defense. The Owls are allowing 17.2 points per game.

This week, the defense will be truly tested when Temple, which is 1-0 in the American Athletic Conference, hosts No. 23 Memphis in a noon matchup at Lincoln Financial Field

Memphis (5-0, 1-0) is third in the AAC in scoring offense and 17th nationally, averaging 39.8 points.

And that includes the Tigers’ opener, a 15-10 win over Mississippi of the Southeastern Conference. (Between them, Temple and Memphis are 3-0 against Power Five teams, with the Owls having beaten Maryland and Georgia Tech.)

Memphis is coming off a 52-33 victory at Louisiana-Monroe.

It was the second time this year the Tigers have put up more than 50 points.

Memphis is a four-point favorite. The Tigers are the second ranked team to face Temple; Maryland was No. 21 when the Owls beat them, 20-17, in the second game of the season. Facing ranked teams is music to Temple’s ears.

“Absolutely, I love it,” said linebacker Shaun Bradley, who is tied for the team lead with 30 tackles. “I want them all to be ranked, to be honest with you.”

Memphis’s offense is led by Brady White, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound, strong-armed redshirt junior who began his career at Arizona State. He arrived last year as a graduate transfer and threw for 3,296 yards, 26 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.

This season, he has thrown for 1,163 yards, 11 touchdowns, and three interceptions.

“There are pocket passers who don’t have the ability to move, but he has the ability to move,” Temple coach Rod Carey said.

That said, Temple’s best chance will be to force White out of the pocket.

Actually, the game might be decided by the teams’ first-year running backs.

Memphis redshirt freshman Kenneth Gainwell (5-11, 191) has rushed for 620 yards (8.2 avg.) and six touchdowns. He is also a threat in the passing game with 17 receptions for 139 yards and a score.

“He has a great talent, where we can spread him out and can match him in space,” Memphis coach Mike Norvell said during Monday’s AAC conference call.

Temple true freshman Re’Mahn Davis (5-9, 210) has rushed for 503 yards (6.0 avg.) and four touchdowns.

For the second week in a row, Carey will give second-team quarterback Todd Centeio some time. Centeio played a series in each half of last week’s 27-17 win at East Carolina. That plan was decided before the game.

Anthony Russo will play the bulk of the time again, but Centeio will offer a change of pace.

Regardless of the quarterback, Temple’s offense might have to be ready for a shootout. At the least, it should be the defense’s biggest challenge of the season.

Notes: Starting cornerback Linwood Crump, and key receiver Randle Jones, who haven’t played since Temple’s opening win over Bucknell due to injury, have returned to practice.

“Crump practiced the last two days and so did Randle,” Carey said. “From what I have seen, right now I would expect Crump would play, I don’t know about Randle at this point. I think he is getting close, but he is probably a little further away.”