College basketball starts today for the Cincinnati Bearcats. But that doesn’t mean football season is over. That is doubly true since UC saved their bowl chances last week with an improbable win over the Tulane Green Wave. At 3-6 overall, there is still a fine line to walk these last three weeks, but with a matchup against a beatable Temple Owls squad on tap tonight at Nippert Stadium, hope remains alive.
It would be a lot easier to believe in UC’s chances if Temple (4-5) hadn’t just beaten Navy, a team that racked up 622 yards of total offense in a 42-32 win over UC earlier this season. Still, this is not the same Owls program that won 10 games the last two years, and not just because head coach Matt Rhule is now at Baylor.
The level of difficulty for UC to make a bowl is beyond scary, as the Bearcats lost five-straight games before barely surviving against Tulane. If not for a late missed field goal, they’d just be going through the motions and looking toward the offseason.
Under Rhule, Temple was a defensively dominant program. With new head coach Geoff Collins, the Owls have taken large steps backward, but defense is still the strength of the team, which ranks 53rd in defensive S&P+. Creating pressure and negative plays are the calling cards of the Owls, who rank second in the American Athletic Conference in sacks (27) and tackles for loss (72), although they may be without Quincy Roche, who is tied for the team lead with six sacks.
All that pressure means Hayden Moore will need to keep his head on a swivel. Moore, who has a bit more mobility than it might appear, has still been sacked more than 10 times this season, although he did not suffer one last week against Tulane. That allowed him to throw for 248 yards and a touchdown on 18-of-27 passing. He also avoided throwing an interception, which he has seven of this season compared to 13 touchdown throws.
But enough about Moore, the offense has a new centerpiece and its Gerrid Doaks, a redshirt freshman that should be fed the ball at a healthy rate. Doaks has compiled a team-high 500 yards on the ground this season (and 128 through the air). He has carried the ball at least 10 times in four games and has been playing his best of late. After a 149-yard outburst against Tulane, he has rushed for at least 90 yards in back-to-back games. Mike Boone will still get work, but he is falling on the depth chart. He had six carries against Tulane and has had six or fewer attempts in three of the last five games.
Even as Doaks’ star rises, the Bearcats are still a pretty sorry offensive group, ranking dead last in the AAC in total yards (350.6 YPG).
Here’s where UC needs to feast. Temple isn’t good offensively either. It ranks 105th in offensive S&P+ and has received so-so production from the quarterback position. Redshirt junior Frank Nutile started for the Owls last week and actually played rather well, throwing for 289 yards and four touchdowns on 22-of-30 passing. He may be the better option on the roster since original starter Logan Marchi only completed 55.5 percent of his pass attempts and was intercepted (eight) nearly as many times as he threw touchdowns (nine).
The Owls mitigate their quarterback issues by running the ball with a group of talented backs. Ryquell Armstead (454 yards, three TDs) is having a down year but is one of the AAC’s best. David Hood (289 yards) is a strong option as a backup. It will fall to linebackers Perry Young, Jaylyin Minor and Tyrell Gilbert to slow these backfield bruisers down, while the secondary has to keep tabs on wide receiving corps that is more talented than you might think, especially with skilled contributor Isaiah Wright (team-high 614 scrimmage yards) running around.
UC’s defense did a good job of keying in on the best skill player on Tulane’s roster, holding Dontrell Hilliard to 40 yards on 18 carries. The Bearcats will need to have the same type of success against multiple threats from Temple. Wright is probably the most important player to slow down.
Players to Watch
I said before the season started that the Bearcats would win this game. I stand by that. Temple may have beaten Navy but with the development of Doaks, a home crowd behind them and their bowl eligibility on the line, the Bearcats will pull another upset.