An unlikely duo will fight to stay atop the Big East Conference when the No. 19 Rutgers Scarlet Knights pay a visit to Lincoln Financial Field to take on the surprising Temple Owls.
It is not surprising to see Rutgers in the mix early on in the Big East, but the 6-0 start for the Scarlet Knights is out of the ordinary. In 143 years of college football Rutgers has gone 6-0 only five times. The Scarlet Knights are also 3-0 in Big East action and are one of three Big East teams in the national rankings. Rutgers has now won seven straight games, which is tied for the sixth-longest winning streak in the nation.
While there were some high expectations for Rutgers coming into this season, Temple was not expected to be in the Big East title race at all. Well after consecutive wins against Big East opponents (37-28 vs. South Florida, 17-14 (OT) vs. UConn) the Owls are a perfect 2-0 in their return to the Big East. The consecutive wins against Big East opponents marked the first time in school history Temple has accomplished the feat. The win over UConn was also the first road win in Big East play for Temple since 2002.
"We're in such a world of one game at a time right now," head coach Steve Addazio said of his team's early accomplishment, "But we are battling, our coaches, our players, we're battling."
Rutgers leads the all-time series between these rivals from the Mid-Atlantic with a record of 18-15 against Temple. The Scarlet Knights have won two straight but have yet to face Temple since the Owls departed from the Big East following the 2004 season.
Offensively speaking, Rutgers has been a team that has relied heavily on its run game while scoring just enough to allow its punishing defense to secure victories. The Scarlet Knights are ranked sixth in the Big East in both scoring (25.0 ppg) and total offense (349.3 ypg) but are ranked second to last in passing (211.8 ypg).
Rutgers' offense centers on the production of running back Jawan Jamison, who is the Big East's leading rusher thus far with 665 yards on 158 carries (also a Big East high). Jamison has been a workhorse for Rutgers all season and is one of only two rushers in the conference to average more than 100 yards rushing per game. In Rutgers' win over Syracuse this past weekend, Jamison had his first game with less than 100 yards as he put up 64 yards on 28 carries.
Quarterback Gary Nova has done enough to keep opposing teams off balance. He has completed a healthy 60.9 percent of his pass attempts for 1,271 yards and 11 touchdowns. Most importantly he has limited mistakes by throwing only two interceptions.
The Scarlet Knights are blessed with some big receivers for Nova to throw to. Brandon Coleman, who stands at 6-foot-6, is the prime example. A physical pass catcher that can go up and get the ball, Coleman has reeled in a team-high 24 receptions for 382 yards and five touchdown passes, tops on the squad. Mark Harrison (22 receptions, 210 yards, 3 TDs) hasn't piled up yards but has been a reliable target as well.
Led by Khaseem Greene, Rutgers' defense has been the power that has driven the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers is ranked second in the nation in rush defense (60.8 ppg) and scoring defense (11.5 ppg) and 18th in total defense (317.0 ypg). The defense has also contributed on offense with two interceptions returned for touchdowns. That ability to create turnovers is also an important part of the defensive effort, with Rutgers forcing 17 this season, with a league-leading 12 interceptions.
Greene is without a doubt the star of the unit with a team-leading 63 tackles and 3.5 sacks, along with a pair of interceptions. Last week against Syracuse, Greene had 14 tackles, 1.5 for loss, while forcing three fumbles and collecting an interception. For his efforts, he was named Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week.
Overall, the Scarlet Knights have been strong as a unit, something Flood is quick to point out.
"It's hard on our defense to really talk about just one guy when you talk about leadership," Flood said while noting the contributions of upperclassmen like Steve Beauharnais and Ka-Lial Glaud, "To me, leadership begins with actions not words and I think those guys do that at all times."
Temple has been a perplexing offensive team this season. The Owls are at the very bottom of the conference in total yards (309.2 ypg) and have been as one dimensional as can be with the fifth worst passing offense in the country (132.4 ypg), forcing the Owls to run the ball often. However that hasn't stopped Temple from scoring, with the Owls ranked fourth in the Big East at 27.0 points per game.
Since the Owls are such a run-reliant squad, the rebirth of Montel Harris over the last two weeks has been a welcome sight. The former All-ACC running back has rushed for over 130 yards in each of the last two games, including totaling season-highs in carries (30) and yards (142) in the win over UConn. Harris has now rushed for a team-high 310 yards on the season.
Quarterback Chris Coyer has also been an important part of the run game with at least 50 yards on the ground in each game this season. Coyer is also the team's second leading rusher with 302 yards. Coyer's passing on the other hand has been less than stellar. He has completed only 53.5 percent of his passes, for 662 yards. His season-high is 178 yards, but with only two interceptions he has not compounded the lack of production with costly miscues.
Jalen Fitzpatrick, who recorded the game-tying reception against UConn, is the only receiver with more than 10 receptions (12) or 100 yards (196).
The Owls' 2-0 start in Big East play also belies what has been the worst defensive unit in terms of total yards yielded (391.0 ypg) this season. That has not led to tons of points by opponents however, with the Owls ranked fifth in scoring defense (22.4 ppg). The defense has been able to keep teams off the scoreboard thanks to an ability to force turnovers, specifically fumbles. Temple leads the conference in fumble recoveries (eight) this season.
Nate Smith is the team leader in tackles with 43, but it has been his team- leading three forced fumbles that have been most vital to the squad's efforts. Tyler Matakevich had a career-high 19 tackles against UConn and has had led the Owls in tackles in each of the last two games.