One of the reasons Temple's defense has enjoyed so much success this year is the Owls' ability to stop the run. They were strong their first seven games, fell into a three-game slump, and reverted to form last week in a 31-12 win over Memphis.

If Temple has desires of winning the American Athletic Conference East Division and earning a berth in the inaugural conference championship game, the Owls have to bottle up a dangerous running opponent.

Temple (9-2, 6-1 AAC) must beat Connecticut (6-5, 4-3) on Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field to win the division.

And that means the Owls must play like the top rushing defense in the AAC. Temple leads the league in that category, allowing teams 127.1 yards per game, which is 26th nationally.

Last week, Memphis was bottled up, gaining 76 yards on 35 carries. The Tigers had to settle for four field goals.

That ended a three-game slump in which the Owls allowed an average of 226.3 rushing yards in losses to Notre Dame and South Florida that were sandwiched around a victory at Southern Methodist.

"Any time you stop the run, the opponent becomes one-dimensional," Temple defensive coordinator Phil Snow said. "We have to do that again this week."

UConn is "one of the most physical teams we will play all year," Snow said. "The whole team is physical, and it starts with their quarterback."

That would be 6-foot-2, 220-pound redshirt sophomore Bryant Shirreffs. But no one knows, or is letting on, whether Shirreffs will play. He left last week's game in the second series after suffering a head injury. Connecticut has called him day-to-day.

Whether it is Shirreffs or junior Tim Boyle (6-3, 224), Connecticut will be looking to run the ball. Shirreffs is a dangerous runner, having gained 428 yards with three touchdowns.

UConn's leading rusher is Arkeel Newsome, who has run for 759 yards (4.7 average) and six touchdowns. Last week the 5-foot-7, 182-pound sophomore carried the ball 32 times for 114 yards.

"I know him pretty well - I used to work out with him when I was younger," said Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who hails from Connecticut. "He is quick, has good vision, and can make plays with his feet."

"He is explosive and dynamic," Temple coach Matt Rhule said of Newsome.

Connecticut is averaging 135 yards rushing per game, but during a three-game winning streak over East Carolina, Tulane, and Houston, the Huskies are averaging 177.3 yards.

If Shirreffs plays, it will make the UConn running game that much more effective.

"He runs around, he hits people, and is physical, so it permeates through the whole football team," Snow said.

This could be a game of old-fashioned football. Temple has been preparing all week to face a physical ground attack.

"They are a very good running team," Snow said. "We have to be disciplined, stay in our gaps, and be physical."

@sjnard