Coach Matt Rhule has talked all week about how Temple's game at Connecticut will be a difficult challenge, even though the teams are going in opposite directions.

The key to the American Athletic Conference clash Friday night is whether Temple's strength proves better than UConn's.

The motivating factors of the two teams are also different. Temple (6-3, 4-1 AAC) can capture the East Division title by winning its final three games.

UConn (3-6, 1-5) which has lost three in a row, needs to win its final three to become bowl-eligible.

Temple wants to run the ball and control the clock, while the Huskies' strength is stopping the run.

UConn is ranked 26th nationally in rushing defense, allowing 125.3 yards per game.

During Temple's three-game winning streak, the Owls are averaging 263.6 rushing yards per game. More impressive, Temple's average time of possession in the three wins is more than 38 minutes.

"We have won games lately because we have been able to run the football," Rhule said. "We have gotten [nearly] 40 minutes in time of possession. That hasn't been our MO against Connecticut."

Last season the running statistics against UConn didn't look bad for Temple, but were a little misleading. In a 27-3 win that clinched the AAC East title, the Owls rushed for 161 yards on 39 carries and had a time of possession of 36:49.

Yet Temple was held in check until Jahad Thomas scored on a 60-yard run midway through the fourth quarter to pad the lead to 27-0.

One of UConn's top defenders, Neshaminy's Luke Carrezola, a 6-3, 260-pound junior defensive end, leads the Huskies with 7.5 tackles for loss. Free safety Obi Melifonwu has a team-high 74 tackles.

During UConn's most recent win, a 20-9 triumph over Cincinnati, the Huskies held the Bearcats to 2 yards rushing.

The Huskies, coming off a 41-3 loss at East Carolina, are last in the AAC in scoring offense, averaging 18.3 points. Even though UConn has struggled on offense, the Huskies have some big playmakers, such as senior receiver Noel Thomas. He is fourth nationally with 9.2 receptions per game and has 83 receptions for 1,058 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Arkeel Newsome has rushed for 528 yards (4.5 avg.) and four touchdowns.

Last year, Temple held the Huskies to 9 rushing yards on 26 attempts and just 129 yards passing. Thomas did have five receptions for 63 yards.

While UConn needs an offensive lift, the Huskies will have to contain Temple's ground game to be competitive. Temple running backs Jahad Thomas and Ryquell Armstead have accounted for 1,238 yards rushing (5.4 avg.) and 20 touchdowns.

Freshman Isaiah Wright has been effective running as a Wildcat quarterback, giving the ground game another strong option.

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard