Temple's football players hold no opponent in awe, but this week there has been plenty of respect for Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr.
All week, any discussion about the American Athletic Conference championship game Saturday at Houston usually began with containing Ward, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior. Temple (10-2) has been beaten twice by dual-threat quarterbacks, and Ward certainly fits that description.
Ward's 17 rushing touchdowns are a single-season school record for the 11-1 Cougars. He also has thrown 16 touchdown passes and is fourth in the NCAA with a 69.3 completion percentage.
Ward played receiver and quarterback as a freshman, attempting only 29 passes. He was at both positions last year but then earned the starting quarterback spot over the last eight games, including a 31-10 home win over Temple.
In that game, Ward completed 29 of 33 passes for 268 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Ward also ran for 44 yards on 13 carries.
"At first I wasn't used to that style of quarterback," said Temple's all-AAC defensive end, Nate D. Smith. "He made some big plays."
Ward has rushed for 893 yards and passed for 2,502 this season. "He is an athletic guy who can throw," said Temple's Matt Ioannidis, an all-AAC defensive tackle. "It's tough when you find a guy that mobile who can throw like that."
His specialty is the big play. Ward has 14 rushing attempts of at least 20 yards and eight of at least 30, both of which lead all Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks.
"A guy like him can really mess up a defense," Houston cornerback Brandon Wilson said in a telephone interview.
Wilson has faced Ward in practice as the Cougars' starting cornerback. Last week he stepped in at running back for a depleted group and gained 111 yards and two touchdowns in a 52-31 win over Navy.
"With [Ward], you don't know if he will run or throw the ball and he is obviously dangerous doing both," Wilson said.
"You have to contain him, but have to keep him in the pocket," Temple coach Matt Rhule said. "You also have to rush him - otherwise he will sit there and pick you apart."
In Temple's two losses, the work of dual-threat quarterbacks DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame and Quinton Flowers of South Florida did in the Owls. Kizer rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns; he threw for 299 yards and a score. Flowers threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 90 yards and a score.
In Houston's only loss, a 20-17 defeat at Connecticut, Ward missed most of the game with an injury, but he returned strong last week.
In a game that decided the West Division title, Ward completed 26 of 35 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-31 win over Navy. He also ran for 83 yards and a touchdown.