As Temple prepares for the American Athletic Conference football championship game at Houston, most of the attention has gone toward stopping prolific Cougars quarterback Greg Ward Jr., and rightly so. Ward has rushed for 17 touchdowns and passed for 16.
Yet there are big playmakers on the defensive side, none bigger than Elandon Roberts, a 6-foot, 235-pound senior inside linebacker.
Roberts simply couldn't be blocked Saturday in a 52-31 win over Navy that clinched the AAC West Division crown and a berth against Temple (10-2) in the title game. He had a career-high 41/2 tackles for loss, seven total tackles, and 21/2 sacks.
"It was a great defensive effort by our whole team," Roberts said in a telephone interview. "They have a great, high-power option and we held them to their lowest rushing yards."
Navy, which had rushed for more than 400 yards in each of its two previous games, was held to 147 yards on 38 carries. Roberts was a big part of that success, continuing a season-long pattern of dominance.
In his first season as a full-time starter, he leads the Cougars in tackles (127) and tackles for loss (17). His averages of 10.6 tackles and 1.42 tackles for loss per game also lead the AAC.
Roberts is second on Houston in sacks with six. Not bad for a first-time starter.
He patiently waited his turn. Roberts starred as a freshman at Morgan State, recording 107 tackles, before transferring to Houston to be closer to his home in Port Arthur, Texas.
In his sophomore and junior seasons, Roberts was a backup to Derrick Matthews, now a member of the Washington Redskins practice squad.
"It was tough having to wait for my opportunity, but I was behind a really good player," Roberts said. "I wanted to show this year what I could do."
He was named a first-team all-AAC selection on Wednesday.
Roberts made a play two weeks ago that directly affected the Temple game. In Houston's 20-17 loss at Connecticut, he was ejected for targeting after a hit on Huskies quarterback Bryant Shirreffs. The next week against Temple, Shirreffs did not play because of a head injury.
Roberts returned last week and was a disruptive force. Now he is looking forward to the challenge of stopping Temple on Saturday.
"They have a top college quarterback [P.J. Walker], and their running back [Jahad Thomas] is very athletic," Roberts said. "I have never been on a champion at any level, and I can't wait for this game."