The dilemma with playing a dual threat quarterback like Houston's Greg Ward Jr. is dealing with his ability to take off from the pocket. The Owls can't allow him to sit in the pocket because he can pick defenses apart with his accuracy. Ward's completion percentage of 69.3 is fourth best nationally. Yet if the Owls have too much pressure, Ward has eight rushes of 30 or more yards with 17 touchdowns.
Protecting the passer
Temple leads the American Athletic Conference with 33 sacks, while Houston is tied for second with 32. What is interesting is that both teams have multiple players who can get to the quarterback, so neither team can concentrate on stopping one player. Houston has four players with five or more sacks, led by outside linebacker Steven Taylor, who leads the AAC with eight. Temple has four players with four or more sacks, led by all-conference defensive end Nate D. Smith. On the other end, Temple has allowed 16 sacks, while Houston has surrendered 27.
Getting Jahad going
Last week, Temple junior running back Jahad Thomas rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the 27-3 win over UConn. It was Thomas' fifth 100-yard game of the season and Temple is 5-0 in those contests. However, Thomas, who had been dealing with sore ribs, had gone the previous five games without reaching 100 yards, including four with fewer than 70. When he is running well, the offense opens up and teams have to respect the passing game. In addition, Temple can play the ball-control game that it prefers, keeping the potent Houston offense off the field.
Even though Thomas had a kickoff return for a touchdown in a win over Cincinnati during the second week of the season, Temple hasn't been great at the return game. Meanwhile, Houston's Brandon Wilson is averaging 27.9 yards per kick return and has scored two touchdowns. Dangerous Houston receiver DeMarcus Ayers has averaged 12.0 yards per punt return and has scored once. Temple's Sean Chandler has averaged a healthy 14.1 yards as a punt returner, but he only has 12 returns. One other factor could be Temple's punt blocking unit. The Owls have blocked six kicks this season, five of which have been punts. Lineman Sharif Finch has three blocks. Finch and Sam Benjamin have gotten close to other blocks. Houston punter Logan Piper hasn't had a punt blocked this season, but one has to feel he will feel heat from the Owls.
Besides being a potentially explosive punt returner, Houston's Ayers has a tremendous ability to get open, even in tight quarters. It will likely be up to cornerback Tavon Young to defend him. Young rolled his ankle and didn't play last week but says he is ready to go. Ayers has 89 receptions for 1,140 yards (12.8 avg.) and six touchdowns. He has 40 more receptions than the next Houston player, Chance Allen. The way Robby Anderson is important to the Temple offense, Ayers is just as critical for Houston.
- Marc Narducci