Temple (4-1) at Houston (3-3) (ET)

FACTS & STATS: Site: TDECU Stadium (40,000) — Houston, Texas.
Television: ESPNU. Home Record: Temple 2-1, Houston 2-2. Away Record: Temple
2-0, Houston 1-1. Neutral Record: Temple 0-0, Houston 0-0. Conference Record:
Temple 2-0, Houston 1-1. Series Record: Houston leads, 3-0.

GAME NOTES: The resurgent Temple Owls take aim at their fourth straight
victory on Friday night when they visit the Houston Cougars for an American
Athletic Conference clash.

After winning only two games in Matt Rhule’s first season, the Owls have shown
significant improvement this season. Temple is sporting a 4-1 overall record
and, more importantly, a 2-0 mark in AAC play, following a 35-24 victory over
Tulsa last weekend.

Houston has as many wins as losses, with three of each. The Cougars have yet
to win or lose consecutive games, with a 1-1 split of their league games as
well. Last Saturday, the Cougars went on the road and knocked off Memphis in a
28-24 final.

Philadelphia was the sight of last year’s matchup between these two teams, and
the visiting Cougars left town with a 22-13 victory. As a result, Houston
leads the all-time series, 3-0.

It might come as a bit of a surprise but other than East Carolina, no team in
the conference is scoring more points per game than the Owls (38.2 ppg). The
points have come despite a less-than-potent offensive attack in terms of
yards, with the Owls averaging a pedestrian 373.4 per game.

P.J. Walker’s play at quarterback has been a major reason for Temple’s
development. On the season, Walker has thrown for 1,099 yards and nine scores
on 61.8 percent passing, while limiting his interceptions (four) to a degree.
In the win over Tulsa, Walker was picked off once while completing only 15-
of-31 pass attempts. However, he also threw for 294 yards and two scores in
the victory.

Jalen Fitzpatrick (24 receptions, 395 yards, five TDs) is the most explosive
receiver on the roster, leading the way in receptions, yards and touchdown
catches. In fact, no other player has more than 130 yards receiving.
Fitzpatrick is also tied for the AAC lead in plays of 30 yards or more with
five.

Jahad Thomas had a breakout game against Tulsa, racking up 152 yards on 14
carries. He now leads the team in rushing yards (258) and carries (39).
However, Jamie Gilmore (187 yards, TD) and Kenneth Harper (113 yards, two TDs)
also get work out of the backfield. Harper is a solid pass-catcher as well (16
receptions, 119 yards, TD).

Temple has been superb in keeping opponents off the scoreboard, ranking first
in the AAC and fourth in the country in scoring defense (14.4 ppg). The Owls
also lead the league in turnover margin (+8), while ranking third in total
defense (326.6 ypg).

Tyler Matakevich (40 tackles, 3.5 TFL) got off to a slow start this season,
but he now leads the team in tackles, while tying for top spot in tackles for
loss. The pass rush still needs work, with the Owls tied for seventh in the
conference in sacks (10).

John O’Korn was benched last week in favor of dual-threat quarterback Greg
Ward, Jr. The demotion was warranted as O’Korn has thrown the most
interceptions in the conference (eight) and failed to complete 50 percent
of his passes in three of five games this season.

In his first shot at starting Ward, Jr. completed 17-of-28 pass attempts, but
he kept his throws short, finishing with 188 yards to go with a touchdown and
an interception. However, he provided plenty of excitement with his legs,
finishing with a team-high 95 yards and a score.

Houston’s answer to Fitzpatrick is Deontay Greenberry, who finished with 79
yards on five receptions in the win over Memphis. Greenberry has a total of
402 yards and two touchdowns on 26 receptions this season. Daniel Spencer (24
receptions, 236 yards, two TDs) was the club’s second-leading receiver, but he
was lost for the season with an ACL tear. Demarcus Allen (16 receptions, 182
yards) appears to be the next-best option.

Houston’s backfield duties are split between Kenneth Farrow (385 yards, three
TDs) and Ryan Jackson (263 yards, three TDs), although if Ward, Jr. continues
to play at quarterback he will get his share of running plays.

Houston has a shot at turning its season around largely because of its
defense. The Cougars lead the conference in yards allowed (322.7 ypg) and
forced turnovers (19), a statistic they led the country in last season.

Adrian McDonald (34 tackles) has been the most opportunistic player on the
unit, with two interceptions and as many fumble recoveries. Efrem Oliphant has
two picks himself and is second in the AAC in tackles (69).

After a sluggish start, it is still too early to tell if Houston has turned a
corner. Still, with Ward, Jr. providing a new wrinkle on offense and the
defense getting back to last year’s success, the Cougars could be a tough out
down the stretch. Expect a tight one here, but for the home team to find a way
to prevail.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Houston 31, Temple 24