For the second time in the last three years, Temple redshirt senior receiver Ventell Bryant is having a late-season surge.
He also is headed to the top of the Temple record books in receiving yards, but more important to the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Bryant is continuing his late-season heroics.
Bryant's two best games have come in Temple's last three.
On Oct. 13, in a 24-17 comeback win at Navy, Bryant had eight receptions for 147 yards and the game-winning, 62-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. It broke a drought of 17 games without a touchdown reception and turned Bryant's season around.
"It is very hard to score in college football, and once you get the opportunity, it starts to be contagious," Bryant said. "That was a big game for me, and I want to carry that the rest of the season and help my team win as many games as possible."
Last week, Bryant caught seven passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns in the Owls' 52-40 loss at unbeaten Central Florida. Bryant hails from Tampa, about an-hour-and-a-half from the game site in Orlando, and he had a sizable group of family and friends in the crowd.
"My family is very supportive, and I am glad they came out to see me play," he said.
Two years ago, when Bryant led the Owls in receptions (54) and receiving yards (895) and scored four touchdowns, he played his best down the stretch. In the final four games, he had 27 receptions for 401 yards and two touchdowns. In his last three games this year, he has 17 receptions for 308 yards and three scores.
"It has been what I have been about pretty much my whole career — starting off not so fast as I want to and ending up well, playing a great game, and I hope it carries over to Houston, USF, and UConn," Bryant said, listing Temple's final three opponents.
First up is Houston (7-2, 4-1 American Athletic Conference), which will host Temple (5-4, 4-1) on Saturday in a key game for both teams. Houston is in first place in the AAC West Division, while Temple is tied for second in the AAC East. The Owls would become bowl eligible with a win.
Bryant and the Temple receivers will look to have a big night against a Houston team that is last in the AAC in pass defense, allowing 326.3 yards per game.
Last season, things never came together for Bryant, who battled an early injury and was thrown off the team for one game for his attitude. He ended with 29 receptions for 280 yards and no scores.
This year, Bryant leads Temple in receptions (35) and receiving yards (504). He also has three touchdowns.
Bryant has caught at least one pass in all 44 games he has played for Temple, and with 2,258 career receiving yards, he needs 15 yards to surpass Willie Marshall (2,272) as the all-time Owls leader.
"I am so proud of how he has handled his business this year, even starting back in January," Temple coach Geoff Collins said. "The mindset that he came back with in the offseason to attack his senior year has been really special. I am glad it is paying off for him, and he is playing at such a high level for us."
Temple at Houston
When: Saturday, 7 p.m., TDECU Stadium, Houston.
Record: Temple, 5-4, 4-1 American Athletic Conference; Houston, 7-2, 4-1.
TV/radio: CBS Sports Network, WPHT 1210-AM.
Coaches: Temple, Geoff Collins (second season, 12-10); Houston, Major Applewhite (second season, 14-8).
Series history: Houston leads, 6-0, after winning, 20-13, last year at Lincoln Financial Field.
Three things to watch
1. Can Temple's offense feed off the momentum from last week's 52-40 loss at Central Florida? That's a UCF unit that is second in the AAC in scoring defense. Houston is eighth (31.7 ppg.) and coming off a 45-31 loss at SMU. Granted, the Cougars played without All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who missed his second straight game with a bruised right knee. Coach Major Applewhite listed him as day to day, but Oliver, who has 13.5 tackles for loss, did warm up before the SMU game. The Temple coaches and players expect to see him. Even with Oliver, this is a defense that can be exploited, especially against the pass. Houston is last in the AAC in pass defense, allowing 326.3 yards per game. Temple quarterback Anthony Russo, who threw for 444 yards and four touchdowns last week, is brimming with confidence after that effort. With the way Houston's offense can score points, Temple might be involved in another shootout.
2. Temple must contain the explosiveness of Houston quarterback D'Eriq King. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior is a dual threat. He leads the nation in points responsible for per game with 28.2. King has thrown 30 touchdown passes and has scored 12. He is fast and elusive. Like Temple, Houston looks to spread the ball around. Four players have caught four or more touchdown passes, led by Marquez Stevenson (49 receptions for 823 yards and nine touchdowns). Look for Temple's best cornerback, Rock Ya-Sin, to spend a lot of time on Stevenson.
3. Temple's offensive line bears watching. Last week, center Matt Hennessy, the Owls' top lineman, suffered a third-quarter injury and didn't return. His status is unknown, but last week he was replaced by starting guard Vincent Picozzi. Starting left tackle Jaelin Robinson shifted to right guard and true freshman Isaac Moore moved to left tackle. If this alignment occurs, Temple could have true freshmen starting at both tackle positions, as Adam Klein has started the last six games at right tackle. Houston has just 18 sacks this season (compared to 23 for Temple), but if Oliver returns, Temple's offensive line, even with Hennessy, will face a major challenge.