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Cincinnati Bearcats vs. Temple Owls: Game Preview

Nippert Stadium is the backdrop for a huge early season clash in the American Athletic Conference.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Game

Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015

Cincinnati, Ohio

8:00 PM ET

ESPNews & ESPN3

Meet the Opponent

The Temple Owls were picked to finish third in the AAC East Division in the preseason, but after one week, that prediction seems a little low.

Temple is coming off a big win over the Penn State Nittany Lions where the defense racked up an astounding 10 sacks in a 27-10 victory. Temple fell into a 10-point deficit early before scoring 27 unanswered and limiting the Nittany Lions offense to 56 yards on their final 13 possessions of the game.

While the Temple defense has been the 'talk of the town' this week, and for good reason, the Temple offense wasn't really a slouch either. Junior quarterback P.J. Walker was, let's say, efficient going 15-of-20 for 143 yards. He didn't turn the ball over though, which is all you need from a quarterback with Temple's defense. Running back Jahad Thomas carried the ball 29 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns for the Owls against the in-state foe, spear-heading the Temple offense.

Temple Offense vs. Cincinnati Defense

This is like the ugly step-child of this matchup. It's there and it's important, but nobody seems to know what to say about it. While the Temple defense will be clashing with the high-powered Cincinnati offense, the Temple offense will matchup with the Bearcats defense.

Questions abound.

As I mentioned above, Thomas was the trigger-man for the Owls offense last week, showing "Temple toughness" and some impressive elusiveness in-between the tackles. He carried the rock 29 times, averaging 4.6 yards per carry, allowing Walker to play game-manager at quarterback. Temple is likely to employ a similar gameplan this week. Establish the run game and then work off of that in the passing game, hoping the defense keeps the score low. Temple's defense is good enough that 14 points from the offense can win you plenty of games this season. Expect Thomas to be the bell-cow again this week and look for Walker to look for easy throws off of the run game.

On the other side, you have to imagine that Cincinnati will try to force Walker to make an impact on this game. This isn't to say Walker isn't capable, but in last season's 14-6 Bearcats win, the Bearcats held the Owls to 71 yards on 32 carries (2.2 yards per carry) and Walker went 19-of-35 for 196 yards, zero touchdowns and zero picks. Expect the Bearcats to play aggressively upfront in an attempt put things on Walker's shoulders. It would be great if the Cincinnati offense came out and put up a quick 20 points or so to force the throw naturally, but let's face it... that's unlikely to happen.

If Cincinnati can't stop the run, Temple has the balance offensively to put some points on the board, a la Penn State game. The defensive line and linebackers are relatively inexperienced for Cincinnati, but I believe there is still the talent in the front seven to throw together a more than serviceable defense. Last week, against an inferior opponent, the defensive line was able to generate some good pressure with four-man fronts and limited blitzing as Sione Tongamoa, Norman Oglesby and Mark Wilson all came away with sacks. If they can replicate that push against the Temple offensive line or at least control the line and allow the linebackers to clog the gaps in the run game, that will key the Bearcats defense. In the secondary, Cincinnati's experienced secondary matches up well with the Temple receivers. Adrian Witty looked good in last week's game and safety Zach Edwards was very active when on the field. Overall, I expect blitzes on run downs and a quarterback spy on the passing downs, relying on the secondary to win the matchups through the air.

Temple Defense vs. Cincinnati Offense

This is the matchup that, alone, is worth the price of admission. Temple's defense racked up 10 sacks last week against a Big Ten team, led by what many consider(ed) a top 5 NFL draft pick, and held them to 183 total yards of offense with just over 100 through the air. Meanwhile, Cincinnati racked up a school-record 636 total yards with Gunner Kiel sitting out most of the game, albeit, against an FCS opponent.

Temple's defensive prowess starts in the front seven, particularly with star linebacker Tyler Matakevich who led the Owls with seven tackles against Penn State, three of them for sacks. Also joining the sack party last week, was Nate Smith (2), Jarred Alwan (1), Matt Ioannidis (1), Haason Reddick (1.5), Jacob Martin (1) and Stephaun Marshall (.5). As we outlined earlier this week, Temple's ability to bewilder and overwhelm opposing offensive lines stems from the stunts and complex blitzing they utilize. They confuse the line and then use their talent as pass rushers to take advantage of that confusion. Heck, they managed to rush two and still get to the quarterback last week against the hapless Penn State offensive line.

The Bearcats offensive line has traditionally been pretty solid. They finished last season having only allowed 18 sacks, which was good enough for second in the American Athletic Conference. Even though the roles have been shuffled a bit, four of the five starters return from a unit that held Temple to only one sack in last season's defensive struggle. Communication will be key along the defensive line and the running backs will certainly be called in to keep Gunner Kiel upright in the pocket. The trenches are where this game will be won on both fronts, but the general sense is that this "unstoppable force" vs. "immoveable object" will be the defining matchup.

In terms of playmakers, Cincinnati still has a litany of receivers to call upon and the running back trio of Hosey Williams, Mike Boone and Tion Green figure to split carries. There is no reason why they shouldn't. They are all dynamic in their own way and swapping them out simply keeps each fresh.

In last season's matchup with the Temple defense, Kiel struggled to a 19-of-31, 174 passing yard, one touchdown statline. I expect to see a better showing. While I think establishing the running game will be essential to Cincinnati's success against the Temple defense, I expect to see some early short, quick passes in an attempt to counter blitzes. Cincinnati came out last week against the Bulldogs with quick, decisive throws with tremendous success early on. The Bulldogs aren't the same as the Owls, but don't be surprised if the Bearcats come out trying to spread the ball around to their dynamic playmakers with short throws in an attempt to get into a rhythm and get an early score. Then the run game will become essential in establishing balance offensively.

Temple is a very tough defense to face, but the Bearcats are actually more equipped to handle their onslaught than Penn State was a week ago. This phase of the game really is two strengths facing off. Temple will try to rattle Kiel and stifle the run game and I expect the Bearcats to start fast through the air before trying to establish a run game. Should be interesting.

Special Teams

The blocked punt that the Bearcats allowed last week wasn't... ideal. Let's assume that has been taken care of. Kicker Andrew Gantz only had a 35-yard field goal to make last week, but he got comfortable with extra points, hitting seven. Gantz could be the deciding factor as the Bearcats will have to take what they can get when they find themselves within scoring range.

Temple's Austin Jones was 2-for-2 on field goals and 3-for-3 on extra points last week. Punter Austin Starzyk had a nice showing against the Nittany Lions with a long of 60 yards. Thomas had a long kick return of 21 yards. He is a dynamic player with the ball in his hands.

Prediction

Score: Cincinnati 20, Temple 17

I think Cincinnati's offense will come out with a quick pace offensively, trying to get the ball out of Kiel's hands quickly through the air to any and all of the receivers at his disposal. I think Cincinnati scores points early and then settles in to establish the run game. Temple will try to establish the run game early with some early success before the Bearcats clamp down a bit, forcing Walker to win the game for Temple.

This game figures to be a game of momentum back and forth with a couple big plays standing out from an otherwise defensive struggle. Special teams will be huge and Kiel, while not dominant, will do exactly what he needs to do against a scary Owls defensive front. Being in front of the home crowd will help all facets of Cincinnati's game.