Temple’s football team faces the first of several end-of-season tests on Thursday against UCF

Fresh off a bye week, Temple heads to Orlando, Fla., and kicks off an important test that begins with Thursday night’s game against Central Florida.

Temple (2-3, 0-1 American Athletic Conference) must win four of his next seven games to become eligible for bowling in Stan Drayton’s first year as head coach. In that streak, Temple will face UCF, Houston and Cincinnati, who are expected to leave the conference for the Big 12 in 2023.

This will be a second straight big game for the Owls. After a blistering loss to Duke and a two-point loss to Rutgers, Temple had a lot to do in their conference opener in Memphis. A win would have marked the first time the Owls have beaten Memphis in back-to-back meetings. Instead, Temple’s lifeless attack resulted in a 24-3 loss.

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“[The bye week was] an opportunity for us to do some soul-searching and self-screening,” Owls coach Stan Drayton said. “Tackling some trends that we were putting on film for the first two games and getting back to the fundamentals of good football.

UCF (4-1, 1-0) will have its own challenges as the program is in the midst of an unusual schedule. The Knights played last Wednesday due to Hurricane Ian. More than 700 UCF students have requested assistance from the university, and the school is still dealing with residual damage.

Temple comes into this game with the third-best scoring defense and worst-scoring offense in the AAC. Facing a UCF team that ranks second in both categories, the Owls need to keep their offense on the field as much as possible.

Temple ranks last in the United States in total carries, averaging 83.8 yards per game on 2.7 yards per carry. If Temple’s offense is to stay on the field, coordinator Danny Langsdorf will need to use the short passing game as an extension of the running game. The offensive line will play a key role in this regard.

“Our running backs weren’t great at reading the game once in a while,” Drayton said. “But there were times when the opportunities weren’t there for them.”

Quarterback EJ Warner gave Temple’s offense a breath of fresh air when he replaced redshirt second D’Wan Mathis in the Week 2 win over Lafayette. Since then, the freshman has seen his passing percentage drop and his steals increase with every game.

Physically, Warner has been taking hits from defenders since becoming the starter. Temple’s two losses with Warner under center aren’t solely his fault, and Drayton and his team are likely making sure the freshman knows that.

When those two teams met last October, UCF beat the Owls, 49-7, at Lincoln Financial Field to take a 7-2 lead in the all-time series.

“[UCF quarterback John Rhys] Plumlee is the real deal,” Drayton said. “He played receiver a year ago, so he knows what he’s doing when the ball is in his hands and it’s time to run. He’s a tough football player, not afraid contact and handles offense very well. So he’s definitely a weapon for UCF that we have to take into account in every game.”

After the trip to UCF, Temple will get another prime time game when they face Tulsa at home. The Owls will face the Golden Hurricane on October 21 on ESPN2. Temple lost last season’s game, 44-10, to fall to 3-1 in the all-time series.

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