Owls hope to soar above visiting Pirates

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – One of the best offenses in the country
returns to action on Saturday, as the 21st-ranked East Carolina Pirates make
the voyage north to challenge the Temple Owls in an American Athletic
Conference brawl at Lincoln Financial Field.

ECU in kicking off a two-game road trip this weekend, with a stern road test
at Cincinnati coming next on Nov. 13. The Pirates’ vaunted offensive attack
has been a bit more grounded of late, but a 31-21 victory over Connecticut
last weekend was the fifth straight for the program, which is 6-1 overall and
a perfect 3-0 in league play. The Pirates are also the only team in the AAC to
find themselves in the national rankings, although that doesn’t mean much to
coach Ruffin McNeill.

“We don’t coach for rankings. I’ve never coached that way and I’m not going to
start now,” McNeill said. “What we coach is playing our best on every play and
embracing our roles to make the team better. That’s what we can control.”

As for Temple, it needs to get to back to winning. Consecutive road losses to
Houston (31-10) and UCF (34-14) have spoiled the surprising 4-1 start the Owls

“It’s one thing to win or lose, but we haven’t played the way we want to
play,” Temple coach Matt Rhule said of the last two weeks. “We’re a little bit
rattled, our confidence is a little bit shaken. We better quickly regain our
confidence if we want to play at a high level.”

Temple is still on pace for a bowl bid, but this game begins a brutal stretch.
The Owls will play a much improved Memphis team next weekend and follow that
up with a trip to Penn State.

Although it has been the premier team in the AAC this season, ECU is in its
first year in the league. Despite this being the first time these teams have
met as conference foes, the Pirates and Owls have played 11 times previously,
with the former earning a victory eight times.

Led by an explosive passing attack, ECU has been nearly impossible to stop on
offense. The Pirates rank fourth in the country in total offense (566.9 ypg)
and they are the highest scoring team in the AAC (39.6 ppg).

Shane Carden threw for a season-high 445 yards in ECU’s win over UConn last
time out. However, he connected on only 59.4 percent of his pass attempts and
also threw his fifth interception of the season. Carden had completed at least
60 percent of his throws in the previous three games. In all, Carden has
racked up an AAC-leading 2,574 yards through the air to go with 18 touchdowns
and a .646 completion percentage.

A trio of receivers get the bulk of the passes from Harden. Justin Hardy is
clearly the best of the lot, as he leads the team with 61 receptions for 779
yards and six touchdowns. He recorded season-highs in receptions (14) and
yards (186) against UConn. Isaiah Jones (52 receptions, 553 yards, four TDs)
and Cam Worthy (23 receptions, 496 yards, TD) also are having strong seasons.

In the backfield, Breon Allen is the top option, with 569 yards, six
touchdowns and a pair of 100-yard games under his belt.

One area the Pirates can improve on both sides of the ball is remaining
disciplined. ECU has been penalized more than any team in the AAC this season,
with 62 infractions, which have resulted in a loss of 606 yards.

“No coaches want penalties. We’ll address them and keep working on them,”
McNeill said.

If they can figure out the penalty issue, the Pirates might be doing even
better and winning by larger margins. After all, in addition to their powerful
offense, they are also performing well on defense, allowing only 23.4 points
and 368.6 yards per game.

On the other side, Temple may be one of the better scoring teams in the
conference (30.7 ppg), but it ranks just seventh in total offense (343.7 ypg).
Such low yardage totals have begun to take their toll on the scoring output,
with the Owls failing to reach 15 points in each of the last two weeks.

P.J. Walker continues to be a work in progress under center. He has provided
plenty of bright moments, but has made a lot of mistakes as well. Walker has
completed 58.5 percent of his pass attempts for 1,469 yards and 11 touchdowns,
which is not a much better number than his interception total (nine). He had a
lot of trouble against UCF, finishing with only 111 yards and two picks on 15-
of-26 passing.

Jalen Fitzpatrick is the top receiving threat on the roster, with 30
receptions for 432 yards and five touchdowns. No other player has more than 20
catches or 250 yards.

Jahad Thomas is the team’s most productive running back, averaging 6.1 yards
per carry while rushing for a total of 334 yards. Jamie Gilmore (190 yards)
and Kenneth Harper (118 yards) work into the rotation as well.

Temple’s defense is also trending in the wrong direction, with the team giving
up at least 30 points and 420 yards in each of the last three weeks. If the
Owls continue to play so poorly, their season averages in overall defense
(362.6 ypg) and scoring defense (19.6 ppg) will begin to slide down the AAC