The American Athletic Conference is back in prime time Thursday night, when the Temple Owls (3-1) visit the East Carolina Pirates (3-2), who are looking to extend their win streak to three.
The Pirates are coming off a 24-21 road win over Old Dominion, in which quarterback Holton Ahlers threw two touchdown passes in an otherwise shaky performance. The sophomore went 8-of-21 through the air and added two interceptions for an 8.1 quarterback rating.
In Week 4’s 19-7 victory over William & Mary, he was a little sharper (20-of-34, 210 yards, one TD), but he will need to improve drastically against a Temple pass defense ranked 10th in opponent yards per game (151.3).
But Temple may be vulnerable against the run. The Owls gave up 217 yards on the ground in their 38-22 loss to Buffalo, with Bulls running back Jaret Patterson accounting for 133 and two scores. East Carolina’s run game is averaging 173.4 yards, but the Pirates have just six rushing touchdowns on the season.
Buffalo’s up 31-7 vs Temple! Jaret Patterson 3 yard TD run! pic.twitter.com/bVu5LBoX49
— #BusinessAintBoomin (@ftbeard_17) September 21, 2019
Temple’s offense revolves around lead back Re’Mahn Davis and backup Jager Gardner. The duo combined for 174 yards in the Owls’ 20-17 victory over then-No. 21 Maryland and another 204 in last week’s 24-2 win against Georgia Tech.
The receiving corps includes redshirt sophomore Jadan Blue (402 yards, two TDs), freshman Branden Mack (228 yards, two TDs) and senior Isaiah Wright (201 yards, three TDs). Junior quarterback Anthony Russo has accumulated 1,071 passing yards and 10 touchdowns, with six interceptions, but his completion percentage has dropped over the last two games. Against Georgia Tech he connected on nine of 22 passes and completed 25 of 51 against Buffalo’s defense.
Temple came out firing on all cylinders in their season opener! Quarterback Anthony Russo threw for over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns!
— American Football (@American_FB) August 31, 2019
Temple is 22-6 against the spread in its last 28 conference games and 6-0 ATS in its last six games against East Carolina. The Pirates are also 2-5 ATS in their last seven at home.
Last season Temple demolished East Carolina 49-6 at home.
Pick: Temple -11.5
Before Temple’s clash with East Carolina on Thursday night, the Sun Belt Conference will briefly get the spotlight on ESPNU.
The Georgia Southern Eagles and South Alabama Jaguars will battle it out in Mobile, Alabama, as both teams look to secure win No. 2 of the season.
The 1-3 Eagles lost 55-3 to LSU in Week 1 before they bested Maine 26-18. They played it close at Minnesota but ultimately fell 35-32, then dropped a game in Statesboro, 37-24, to the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns.
South Alabama’s schedule hasn’t been much easier. The Jaguars opened the season with a visit to Nebraska and lost 35-21. In Week 2 South Alabama earned its only win, against Jackson State (37-14), but followed up that victory with a 42-6 beating by Memphis.
South Alabama beats Jackson State 37-14
The Jags ran for a school record 413 yards pic.twitter.com/NsbNEWAOYA
— Robby Baker (@RobbyBakerTV) September 8, 2019
In Week 4 UAB handed South Alabama a 35-3 loss, while Louisiana-Monroe hosted the Jaguars for a 30-17 defeat.
There won’t be much of an air show down south Thursday night . The Jaguars rank 122nd in passing yards per game (140), while Georgia Southern is second-to-last in the FBS (49.8). Both teams rely on the run and feature a quarterback who has done more damage with his feet.
Eagles QB Shai Werts is back from a shoulder injury and produced just 37 passing yards against Monroe, but he led the team in rushing (93 yards). Logan Wright is Georgia Southern’s lead back (248 yards, two TDs), while Matt LaRoche and J.D. King have generated a combined 348 yards and two scores.
Shai Werts RARELY put the ball in danger last season. pic.twitter.com/UIm6irUq7I
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 30, 2019
As for South Alabama, running back Tra Minter does most of the work (54 carries for 432 yards and two TDs), with quarterback Cephus Johnson ranking second in rushing yardage (192 yards, four TDs) and Jared Wilson adding another 154 yards on 35 carries.
Last year Georgia Southern gashed South Alabama, 48-13, but the Eagles roster underwent quite a bit of change in 2019. The Eagles are 5-0 against the spread in the last five games against Southern Alabama, while the favorite is 4-1 ATS in the last five. However, the Eagles are 1-4 ATS in their last five games overall and the Jaguars are 4-1 ATS versus a team with a losing record.
It’s likely to be an ugly contest, but 10 points is too much to lay on a Georgia Southern team that is so one-dimensional on offense.