With three games remaining on its schedule, Temple has a realistic chance at bowl eligibility.
The Owls dropped back-to-back games against UConn and Army West Point in October, but they can reach the six-win mark with two wins to close the regular season. Temple (4-5, 2-3 American Athletic Conference) is treating every game like a playoff battle.
“We know at this point, every game is an elimination game,” redshirt-freshman offensive lineman Matt Hennessy said. “You just have to go one week at a time.”
Temple will play Cincinnati (3-6, 1-4 The American) on Friday at 7 p.m. at Nippert Stadium in Ohio.
The Bearcats have lost five of their last six games. Three of those five losses were against ranked opponents. Last week, Cincinnati sneaked out a 17-16 win against Tulane after the Green Wave missed a go-ahead, 36-yard field goal with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Junior quarterback Hayden Moore completed 18-of-27 passes for 248 yards and touchdown in the victory. He also received the best rating out of any quarterback in The American last week, according to Pro Football Focus.
Coach Geoff Collins said after defending triple-option offenses against Army on Oct. 21 and Navy on Nov. 2, the Owls will have to a better job of disguising coverages in their secondary.
“One the best things [Moore] does is he sees the coverages, he knows where to go with the ball,” Collins said. “And he’s got a very quick release, and he’s got some very skilled guys out on the perimeter that he can get it to.”
Junior wideout Kahlil Lewis leads the Bearcats in receiving with 48 catches for 444 yards and four touchdowns.
Senior wideout Devin Gray is Cincinnati’s deep threat. He averages 17.1 yards per catch and has hauled in three touchdowns. He has also had four catches this season that have went for 39 yards or more.
Temple’s passing defense is the fourth best in The American, allowing an average of 221.1 passing yards per game.
“They got a couple of good wide receivers,” redshirt-freshman linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley said. “They got a talented freshman running back, so we’ve got to keep him contained. They got a quarterback with a pretty strong arm. So if we keep everyone contained and just lock down their wide receivers, I think we’ll be successful.”
Redshirt-junior Frank Nutile will make his third consecutive start against Cincinnati. He completed 42-of-59 passes for 579 yards, five touchdowns and one interception against Army and Navy.
The Bearcats only allow 208 passing yards per game, which ranks second in The American behind South Florida. But Cincinnati has two games this season where its has allowed four receiving touchdowns or more.
Nutile and senior wideout Adonis Jennings have formed a chemistry since Nutile’s start against Army. When Jennings transferred from the University of Pittsburgh for the 2015 season, he and Nutile used throw together at practice every day.
Jennings is Temple’s leading receiver since Nutile assumed the starting role because of redshirt-sophomore quarterback Logan Marchi’s foot injury. Jennings has nine catches for 189 yards and three touchdowns.
Redshirt-junior wideout Ventell Bryant will also play against Cincinnati on Friday, Collins said. Bryant didn’t play against Navy last week because of an “internal matter.”
After hauling in seven catches for 79 yards on Sept. 9 against Villanova, including a one-handed catch on the sideline that led to sophomore kicker Aaron Boumerhi’s game-winning kick, Bryant has only had more than two receptions in a game once in his next six games. He hasn’t eclipsed 30 receiving yards since the Owls’ 16-13 win against the Wildcats.
Jennings said there’s still time for Bryant to get back on track.
“There’s been ups and downs with Ventell this season, but like I always tell him, ‘You never know when that play is going to happen that’s going to spark everything off,’” Jennings said. “I just tell him he’s got to keep his head up and just continue to be able to be a better player.”
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