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In UCF, Temple faces third straight explosive offense

UCF is tied for first in scoring offense in the American Athletic Conference and tied for fifth nationally.

Temple linebacker Sam Franklin (4), shown returning a fumble against Memphis, says the Owls defense needs to improve on third downs.
Temple linebacker Sam Franklin (4), shown returning a fumble against Memphis, says the Owls defense needs to improve on third downs.Read moreLOU RABITO / Staff

Temple has the unenviable task of facing the top three scoring teams in the American Athletic Conference in successive weeks.

The third of these meetings will be 7 p.m., Saturday, when the Owls (5-2, 2-1 AAC) host two-time defending conference champion Central Florida (5-2, 2-1) at Lincoln Financial Field.

Temple is coming off Saturday’s 45-21 loss at SMU. SMU and UCF are tied for first place in the conference in scoring offense and tied for fifth nationally, averaging 44.3 points.

The loss to SMU followed the Owls’ 30-28 win over Memphis, which is third in the AAC in scoring offense, averaging 39.1 points.

Adding to the importance of Saturday’s game, the loser likely will drop out of contention in the AAC’s East Division. Cincinnati leads with a 3-0 record, including a win over UCF. Temple will visit Cincinnati on Nov. 23.

The other three AAC East teams — USF (1-2), ECU (0-3), and UConn (0-4) — are essentially out of contention.

So Temple’s main goal is to rebound after being punched in the face at SMU, where quarterback Shane Buechele threw for 457 yards and six touchdowns.

“We understand we were a step or two off on plays last week, and we got beat a lot on third down,” Temple linebacker Sam Franklin said after Tuesday’s practice. “We have to get off the field on third down and make plays.”

SMU was 10-for-21 in third-down conversions, while the Owls were just 4-for-16.

UCF, which beat Temple last year, 52-40, will be another challenge.

The Knights aren’t as dominating as the previous two years, when they were undefeated in the AAC, but they are still formidable. Their two losses have been to Pittsburgh, 35-34, and Cincinnati, 27-24.

UCF is playing without quarterback McKenzie Milton, a two-time AAC offensive player of the year, who suffered a gruesome knee injury in last year’s regular-season finale. Even without Milton, the Knights have an embarrassment of quarterback riches.

Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush started the first game, but true-freshman Dillon Gabriel (6-0, 186), has taken over, throwing for exactly 2,000 yards and 17 touchdowns.

“Their quarterback is a lefty, gets the ball out well, has great rotation, and can throw it downfield,” Franklin said of Gabriel.

There are plenty of receivers and running backs who are big-play performers, led by junior Gabriel Davis, who has 47 receptions for 833 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Last week, Temple had trouble staying with the SMU receivers, who aren’t as big as UCF’s group.

“They have a little more size than maybe SMU, and they have a few more of them that they will put out there,” Temple coach Rod Carey said about the UCF receiving corps. “… Both are good and get it done in a different way. But as far as receivers go, they run fast, catch the ball, and that is a good combination, and both those teams have that.”


Temple defensive tackle Ifeanyi Maijeh and defensive end Quincy Roche left the SMU game because of injuries. Carey said they haven’t practiced, but he is hopeful they will play Saturday. … Starting safety Benny Walls, who missed his second straight game with an upper-body injury, is unlikely to play, Carey said. … Offensive guard Jovahn Fair, who has started 37 career games, left the SMU game after a few series because of a recurring injury and was replaced by Leon Pinto. Fair didn’t practice Tuesday, and Carey said he did not know whether he will be available Saturday.