Continuing the preview of every opponent on UConn's schedule this year, we take a look at conference foe, the Temple Owls.
Head Coach: Matt Rhule (2nd Season, 2-10 career record)
2013 Regular Season Record: 2-10
Key Losses: WR Robbie Anderson, WR Ryan Alderman, S Abdul Smith, LT Cody Booth
UConn Game Day Info: Saturday, September 27th at Rentschiler Field
We had a chance to ask Evan Cross, who covers Temple for Underdog Dynasty to answer a few questions for us:
1) Temple had a rough season last year, do you expect to see improvement in 2014?
Cross: Last year was the first under head coach Matt Rhule and his staff, which led to some growing pains. The biggest change Rhule instituted was an emphasis on the passing game, which really picked up after P.J. Walker grabbed the starting job in the fifth game. Once Walker came on, the team was much better. With another full offseason, the young team should be more prepared and will almost certainly do better than 2-10.
2) What is the QB situation like?
Connor Reilly started the first five games last season and struggled, throwing two touchdowns, two interceptions and completed 52 percent of his passes. Walker replaced him midway through a 30-7 loss against Louisville, from which point he threw 20 touchdowns, eight interceptions and had a completion percentage of 61 percent. Walker, now a sophomore, is the starter. Reilly, a redshirt-senior, will back up, and has been supportive of Walker in training camp.
3) What are this team's strengths/weaknesses?
The team's strength are at its skill positions, which took a hit after last year's leading receiver, Robby Anderson, left the team for academic reasons. Still, the Owls return senior Jalen Fitzpatrick and redshirt-junior John Christopher at wideout. There is also a lot of buzz around redshirt-sophomore Khalif Herbin, who was recruited as a running back and is now at wide receiver. Temple also boasts a deep backfield, led by senior Kenneth Harper and sophomore Zaire Williams.
As of now, the weakness looks to be the offensive line. Junior center Kyle Friend has emerged as a team leader and played very well last year, but he is the only returning consistent starter from 2013. Other lineman, like redshirt-freshman Dion Dawkins and redshirt-sophomore Brendan McGowan, have shown promise in camp, but the line will be a bit of an unknown until the season.
4) Who is one player to watch on offense, defense?
Apart from Walker, the player to watch on offense is Williams. Williams was originally committed to West Virginia before switching to Temple in 2013. While splitting time with Harper and Jamie Gilmore, he ran for 533 yards last year, which is the third most by any Temple freshman in program history. Despite the depth at his position, he has the potential to distinguish himself from the others.
On defense, the player to watch is junior linebacker Tyler Matakevich. Matakevich, an unheralded recruit from Connecticut, impressed in his freshman year and led the country in solo tackles in 2013 with 105. He averaged 8.8 per game, which was 1.6 more than anyone else. The linebacker was also a team leader and will likely be the same this year.
5) What is your prediction for Temple's win total?
I think Temple goes 6-6 this year. The Owls' most challenging matchups will be trips to Central Florida and Penn State, but other than that all the games are within reach. They weren't that far off from 6-6 last year - they lost three winnable games against Fordham, Idaho and Connecticut. With more polish, they should improve.
6) What is the fan perspective on the job head coach Matt Rhule?
Rhule has largely been given a pass for the first season, as it takes more than one year to make your mark on a program. However, there is a contingent of fans that expected better and wouldn't be too upset if Rhule was fired. I think most fans would be placated if he gets Temple to .500 or better.
For UConn, this will unquestionably be a must-win game against a rebuilding Temple team. We will know a lot more about this team by the time September 27th comes around after tests with Boise State, BYU, and USF, but ignoring all of that, this is a winnable game early in AAC play that will be crucial to UConn's hopes in making a bowl game for the first time in 4 years.
Bill Connelly's comprehensive preview can be found here.