Temple (10-2, 7-1 American Athletic Conference) will face Houston (11-1, 7-1 The American) Saturday at John O’Quinn Field at TDECU Stadium in the conference’s inaugural conference championship game.
Temple, No. 22 in the College Football Playoff rankings, leads The American in scoring defense with 18.8 points per game and total defense, allowing 328.4 total yards per game, while No. 19 Houston is second in the conference in scoring offense with 42 points per game.
“Both teams have had to play their best football down the stretch to get to this game,” coach Matt Rhule said. “I think both team will be prepared.”
Temple’s defense, led by senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich—The American’s Defensive Player of the Year—has allowed allowed 15 combined points and 370 yards of total offense in its last two game after allowing a combined 108 points and 1,420 yards of total offense in games against Notre Dame, Southern Methodist and South Florida.
The Owls’ defense has not allowed an offensive touchdown in its last two games and has allowed 22 total touchdowns this season, which is first in The American.
“They are very talented, especially on defense,” Houston first-year coach Tom Herman said. “It will be a challenge. Their numbers are not a farce. Their numbers and what they have been able to do throughout a 12-game regular season has been very, very remarkable.”
Houston has won seven games by 21 points or more, which is second in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
“I don’t think there’s a faster starting team in the country than Houston. … they are making a lot of plays and scoring,” Rhule said.
Houston senior running back Kenneth Farrow missed the team’s 52-31 win Nov. 27 against Navy due to a sprained ankle and Herman said Farrow is day-to-day. Farrow was replaced last week by junior cornerback Brandon Wilson, who rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
Farrow’s usual backup, senior running back Ryan Jackson, injured his collarbone in the team’s 33-30 win Nov. 7 against Cincinnati and was declared out for the season.
“Farrow is still hobbled a bit but [he] practiced and did some light drills,” Herman said. “If he can go, he’s gonna go. If he can’t, Brandon will have to play tailback. … Depending on Farrow’s health, I could see [Wilson] playing both sides of the ball.”
Houston’s offense, led by junior quarterback Greg Ward Jr., averaged 499.8 yards of total offense per game this season, including 240.7 yards rushing per game. In the 11 games that Ward started this season, Houston averaged 44 points per game and did not score fewer than 33 points.
The Cougars defense is allowing 381 yards per game, No. 5 in the conference, and 117.5 yards rushing per game, second best in The American. The Cougars have held their opponents to less than 25 points seven times this season.
“[Houston defensive coordinator] Todd Orlando does a great job,” Rhule said. “They have been one of the leaders in the country in terms of taking the ball away for the last several years. That has been ingrained in them. … They are just a bunch of ball-hawking, football-playing dudes.”
Owls’ senior center Kyle Friend is expected to play this week. Friend missed the team’s last four games after injuring his knee in the team’s 24-20 loss Oct. 31 to the University of Notre Dame.
The winner of the game Saturday is eligible to be selected by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee for the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl or the Vizio Fiesta Bowl, two of the six featured games for Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, known as the “New Year’s Six.”
Michael Guise can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Michael_Guise.