Central Florida at Temple
Saturday, 7 p.m., Lincoln Financial Field.
TV/radio: ESPN2/WTEL-AM (610), ESPN radio.
Records: UCF, 5-2, 2-1 American Athletic Conference; Temple, 5-2, 2-1.
Coaches: UCF, Josh Heupel (17-3 overall); Temple, Rod Carey (5-2, 57-32 overall).
Series: UCF leads, 4-2.
There have been four American Athletic Conference title games and either Temple or Central Florida has appeared in each one. The winner of Saturday’s game at Lincoln Financial Field will remain very much alive, although Cincinnati will still be the front-runner.
The loser faces extremely long odds, which is why Saturday’s game may have a playoff-type feel to it.
Here are five things to watch in the game.
Containing the UCF receivers
Last week, Temple couldn’t keep up with SMU’s receivers in a 45-21 loss. Now the Owls face a UCF team that is tied for first in the AAC with SMU in scoring offense (44.3 ppg.) and tied for fifth nationally. SMU quarterback Shane Buechele threw for 457 yards and six touchdowns.
What made Buchele’s job easier is that the SMU receivers were wide open all day, led by Reggie Roberson, who had eight receptions for 250 yards and three touchdowns.
UCF has bigger receivers than SMU, but the Knights also have good team speed. So the Temple secondary will be tested. Leading the way is 6-foot-3, 212-pound junior Gabriel Davis (47 receptions, 833 yards, 10 touchdowns). Redshirt junior Tre Nixon (6-2, 180) is another tall receiver with good production (28 receptions, 469 yards, four touchdowns).
Nine different players have at least one receiving touchdown, so keeping the receivers in check will be a key.
Temple has outscored teams, 48-19 in the first quarter, but that pales in comparison to UCF, which owns a 111-14 first-quarter advantage. In fact, the Knights are outscoring teams, 217-50, in the first half. So Temple has to make sure that the Knights don’t get off to one of their patented quick starts.
Getting Wright going
Last week, Temple receiver Isaiah Wright had a rough game (three receptions, 19 yards) that began with a dropped pass when he was wide open and didn’t get much better. Wright is having a solid season as a receiver (40 receptions, 380 yards and five touchdowns) but has yet to have a significant impact as a punt returner. He is averaging 6.8 yards per punt return, but goes up against a UCF team that is 120th nationally in punt return defense, allowing 14.43 yards per return. Wright, a Sporting News First Team All-American return man last year, could take advantage of the Knights struggles in punt return defense.
Owls pass rush
Temple will look to put heat on UCF freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel, but it could be difficult since two of the more dangerous pass rushers, tackle Ifeanyi Maijeh and end Quincy Roche, had to leave the game due to injury. Coach Rod Carey said that he thinks both will be available, but even if they are, will they be close to 100 percent? They have combined for nine sacks and if they can’t go, or are hindered, then Temple’s pass rush will greatly suffer.
UCF has one of the best secondaries that Temple will face. Redshirt junior strong safety Richie Grant is a returning first-team all-AAC player, who is third on the team in tackles with 37 and also has five pass breakups. Redshirt senior cornerback Nevelle Clarke is another returning first-team all-conference choice who has nine pass breakups. It won’t be easy for a solid Temple receiving corps to get separation against such a talented secondary.