Temple football coach Rod Carey never bought the theory that his team’s season was reaching a crisis level before last Thursday’s American Athletic Conference game at South Florida.
The Owls had lost their previous two games by a combined 66 points to SMU and Central Florida. One more loss would have ruined any realistic chance to win the East Division title and a berth in the AAC title game.
After that 17-7 victory over USF in which Temple recorded nine sacks, the Owls can still figure in the East Division race.
Temple (6-3, 3-2) got a major break when Tulsa upset Central Florida (7-3, 4-2), to pull the Owls within a half-game of second place in the AAC East. Temple is two games behind first-place Cincinnati (8-1, 5-0) with three games left.
No. 17 Cincinnati will play South Florida (4-5, 2-3), Temple, and No. 18 Memphis (8-1, 4-1) of the West Division. If Cincinnati beats USF and loses to Temple and Memphis and the Owls win their remaining three games — against Tulane (6-3, 3-2) at noon Saturday, Cincinnati, and UConn (2-8, 0-6) — tiebreakers will favor Temple in a three-way deadlock (assuming UCF wins its final two games).
After a bye, UCF will finish at Tulane and home against USF.
It’s a lot to digest, and Carey and his team have maintained that one-game-at-a-time approach, which is probably best because nobody should overlook Tulane, which has enjoyed a resurgence under fourth-year coach Willie Fritz.
Last year, Tulane went 7-6 and earned a share of the AAC West Division title. The Green Wave beat Louisiana-Lafayette in the AutoNation Cure Bowl, and if one doesn’t think it was such a big deal, it was only the school’s fifth bowl victory in 125 years.
One of the Tulane’s bowl wins was a 20-14 triumph over Temple in the 1935 Sugar Bowl, and the Owls will wear commemorative jerseys Saturday.
Temple isn’t interested in looking back to 1935 or even to last week, and the Owls don’t want to look too far ahead, either.
“All we can do at this point is control what we control, Tulane, Cincy, and UConn and one game at a time,” said redshirt junior defensive end Quincy Roche, who had 3 1/2 sacks in last week’s win.
If Temple wants the game against Cincinnati to mean something, the Owls must dispatch of Tulane, which opened as a 4.5-point favorite.
The utmost priority is to stop Justin McMillan, one of only three Football Bowl Championship quarterbacks who have rushed for 12 or more touchdowns. He has also thrown for 1,703 yards and 13 scores.
“He is a fantastic quarterback,” Carey said Tuesday. “He throws it well, too, which makes him extremely dangerous.”
McMillan is most dangerous, though, with his legs.
“He can extend plays,” Carey said.
The Green Wave are second in the AAC in rushing (261.2 yards per game) and have six players who have rushed for 200 or more yards.
So there is clearly no looking ahead to Cincinnati.
Freshman running back Re’Mahn Davis, who missed the USF game with a lower-body injury, practiced Tuesday, and Carey said he expects him to play. Davis leads Temple in rushing with 655 yards (4.9 avg.) and five touchdowns.
Senior safety Benny Walls, who has missed the last four games with an upper-body injury, also practiced Tuesday in full.
“I am probably a little reserved on him, but we would certainly like to see tomorrow and the rest of the week,” Carey said.