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Thursday NCAA Preview: Tulsa vs. Temple

Thursday Night College Football – Tulsa at Temple

This week’s Thursday night ESPN game comes out of the American Athletic Conference with a pair of 1-2 squads facing off in what will be a key win towards bowl eligibility for the victor. Tulsa and Temple haven’t had the September starts they envisioned but both still have a shot at a successful season. Here is a look at this week’s Thursday night game to kick off the fourth big weekend of college football.

Match-up: Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Temple Owls

Venue: At Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Time/TV: Thursday, Sep. 20, 7:30 PM ET ESPN

Line: Temple -7½, Over/Under 55½

Last Meeting: 2017, Temple (-5½) 43, at Tulsa 22

After winning the AAC title in 2016 Temple lost head coach Matt Rhule to Baylor and hired Geoff Collins, who had been the defensive coordinator at Florida the previous two years. Last season the Owls slipped from the back-to-back 10-4 seasons they had in 2015 and 2016 but still managed a 7-6 season. Temple beat Tulsa on the road in the regular season finale to reach 6-6 before beating Florida International in the Gasparilla Bowl, all things considered a fairly successful first season with the coaching transition plus the loss of longtime quarterback Phillip Walker, a four-year starter that is the all-time passing leader for the Owls.

There were some important players that graduated for Temple last season, notably in the receiving corps but expectations were elevated with the Owls considered by many the favorite in the AAC East. The offense gained a spark when Frank Nutile took over at quarterback last season and the top rushers from last season returned along with several key starters on a defense that has been very effective in recent years.

Temple opened the season with a pair of home games and lost both games, falling 19-17 (-14½) to FCS Villanova and 36-29 (-4) to Buffalo. On its own neither loss was egregious as Villanova gave Temple a great battle early last season and is one of the better FCS programs. Buffalo meanwhile is considered one of the top MAC teams is off to a promising 3-0 start as it could be a more reasonable loss by season’s end.

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Nutile struggled with four interceptions before being injured late in the Buffalo game. He may be healthy enough to return in the near future but he may not get his job back at Temple was rejuvenated last week under sophomore Anthony Russo who played well in the team’s 35-14 (+16) upset win at Maryland. The Owls took a 21-7 lead at halftime even with Russo throwing a pick-6 the other way. Early in the second half Russo hit a 47-yard touchdown pass and the Owls even survived a blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to hold on for a 21-point win. Temple’s defense allowed just 195 yards and no offensive touchdowns as the Owls can feel confident heading into the conference season.

Tulsa has had a roller coaster run in now four seasons under Philip Montgomery, who was hired in 2015 after leading the Baylor offense under Art Briles. He inherited a 2-10 team and went bowling in year one, nearly upsetting Virginia Tech in the Independence Bowl to finish 6-7. In 2016 the Hurricane delivered a 10-3 campaign with a dominant bowl win. Last season everything went wrong as Tulsa inversed its record to just 2-10. A closer looks reveals a lot of narrow losses but also a major decline statistically on both sides of the ball.

Tulsa has decent returning experience and was universally projected for a season of improvement this season. How much Tulsa can improve remains to be seen. After being tested but winning 38-27 (-13) against FCS Central Arkansas in the opener, the Hurricane delivered a valiant comeback bid at Texas, losing by seven 28-21 (+21) despite falling behind 21-0 at halftime. Last week Tulsa had a big measuring stick game against Sun Belt power Arkansas State and came up short with a 29-20 (-1½) loss at home. Three turnovers were a factor as an interception return touchdown in the third quarter was a big blow ahead of Tulsa climbing back within seven points in the fourth quarter.

Luke Skipper was erratic as a freshman last season, starting six games including the upset win over Houston. He has been more accurate so far this season and already has more touchdown passes but he also has three interceptions after throwing only four in 127 attempts last season. His yards per attempt average is also down to 6.9 compared to 9.0 last season. Facing quality competition has been a factor and the challenge will be great this week with Temple featuring a reputation as a strong pass defense in recent years. Shamari Brooks leads Tulsa with 310 yards rushing so far this season as the Hurricane keep the ball on the ground almost twice as often as they throw.

The Tulsa defense has looked capable after allowing 37.5 points per game last season no foe has reached 30 against the Hurricane this season. Now 1-2 Tulsa is at a critical juncture in the season with three of the next four games on the road and the lone home game a difficult October game with South Florida. Tulsa isn’t likely to be favored in any of the next four games as bowl hopes could be extinguished without an upset along the way.

Skipper didn’t play in last season’s game as Tulsa saw a 7-0 lead a few minutes into the game disappear. Temple led 31-13 at the half and sealed the game with a punt return touchdown late in the third quarter in a 43-22 win. Temple had a 451-369 edge in yards with three Tulsa turnovers. Tulsa did rush for 5.8 yards per carry and 318 yards against a Temple defense that had good season numbers against the run as only Notre Dame ran for more yards against the Owls last season. Behind Chad President and Will Hefley Tulsa completed only six passes in the game while having two interceptions however. Nutile was sharp with one of his best games completing 20 of 28 passes with three touchdowns.

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Up next Temple has another opportunity vs. a major conference team visiting Boston College and the Owls have a very tricky AAC road schedule this season playing at Navy, at UCF, and at Houston as it will be critical to take care of business at home. With a limited margin for error the rest of the way after 1-2 starts for both programs, this game could feel like a postseason elimination game already in September.

Historical Trends: Temple has won the two recent meetings between these teams with wins in 2014 and 2017. Tulsa won both meetings in 1987 and 1988 for a split in four games both S/U and ATS. Tulsa is only 6-13 S/U on the road under Montgomery since 2015 but 14-5 ATS including 12-3 ATS as a road underdog and 5-1 ATS as an underdog of fewer than 10 points. With a pair of losses already this season Temple is just 3-5 S/U and 2-6 ATS at home under Collins since 2017 though going back to 2014 Temple is 17-10 S/U and 16-11 ATS in home games. Temple has failed to cover in five games in a row as a home favorite and is just 6-9-1 ATS as a single-digit home favorite going all the way back to 1998.

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