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Struggling East Carolina gives Temple its last real chance to get a second win this season

Both Temple and ECU have earned their lone win against 1-7 South Florida. The Owls will close the season next week against No. 7 Cincinnati.

Temple running back Tayvon Ruley hasn't shown breakaway speed, but he's a tough runner inside the tackles.
Temple running back Tayvon Ruley hasn't shown breakaway speed, but he's a tough runner inside the tackles.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Temple’s matchup against East Carolina on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field will be the Owls’ last realistic chance to earn a second win. (The Owls’ final game will be next Saturday against No. 7 Cincinnati.)

Temple (1-5 overall and in the American Athletic Conference) will face an ECU team that is 1-6, 1-5. Both Temple and ECU have beaten South Florida, with Temple winning by 39-37 and ECU earning a 44-24 victory. Temple has lost four in a row.

Here are some of the key questions entering the game.

How will ECU defend Temple QB Matt Duncan?

Temple starter Anthony Russo is on the COVID-19 protocol list and is out, according to coach Rod Carey. So are backups Trad Beatty and Re-al Mitchell, who are injured. In a Zoom interview this week, ECU defensive coordinator Blake Harrell said he had to go back to Ashley Ridge High School in South Carolina to get more tape on Duncan, a freshman who is making his first college start. Duncan has played only two series this season, both in last week’s 38-13 loss at Central Florida.

“You kind of analyze him in the limited number of snaps he has taken. You go back and watch high school film, his strengths and weakness and who does it compare to who has competed in recent games,” Harrell said. “ … Their main goal is to run the football, so we have to take them out of that so we can put a freshman quarterback in situations where he is not comfortable.”

Can Temple run effectively to take pressure off Duncan?

This is where the Owls have some hope. ECU is 10th in the AAC in rushing defense, allowing 228.8 yards per game. Temple is just 10th in rushing offense, averaging 140.3 yards. A key will be the continued development of Tayvon Ruley. A redshirt senior, Ruley will be making his third start since Re’Mahn Davis quit the team.

In his two starts, Ruley has 38 carries for 156 yards (4.1 avg.) and one touchdown. He is not a breakaway back, but he can get to the outside. The 6-foot, 215-pound Ruley can punish a defense with his inside running. He had 23 carries last week against UCF. Expect the same type of workload, if not even more, against ECU.

Can Temple stop quarterback Holton Ahlers?

On a young ECU team, the 6-3 junior is among the most experienced players, having made 23 career starts. He has completed 61.5% of his passes for 1,441 yards, 12 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. Ahlers had a miserable game last Friday in a 55-17 loss at Cincinnati, completing 9 of 20 passes for 87 yards and three interceptions.

In last year’s 27-17 home loss to Temple, he gave the Owls some trouble, completing 19 of 39 passes for 229 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. He can throw on the move, but Temple must force him out of the pocket. Temple can certainly stop him, but more often when he doesn’t have success, Ahlers stops himself because of turnovers.

Could ECU’s kicking game be the difference?

It’s possible, although the Pirates have had some rough moments this year in that area. Temple has been inconsistent all year on all special teams. ECU redshirt senior Jake Verity is the active Football Bowl Subdivision leader in career field goals made with 73. He has 94 attempts (77.7%). So there is an advantage for ECU.

This year, Verity is 13-for-17 but has seen three of his field-goal attempts blocked, something Temple will try to exploit.

The pick

ECU is better than its record indicates, while Temple isn’t. The Pirates have lost a pair of four-point decisions to quality teams, Navy and Tulsa. Even though ECU is young, the experience at quarterback if Ahlers can bounce back from the Cincinnati game should be the difference.

Prediction: ECU 20, Temple 16.