PHILADELPHIA – Temple coach Steve Addazio can see the Owls making progress, even as the wins have dried up.
The Owls' 3-2 start, which included the program's first Big East winning streak, has faded with three straight losses.
They suffered a second-half collapse against Rutgers, were dominated from the start in a 30-point loss to Pittsburgh, then had a first-half tight battle turn into a rout in last week's 45-17 loss to Louisville.
Temple's three early victories put them in a position to still qualify for a bowl — with the season quickly winding down and no wiggle room for another loss. The Owls (3-5, 2-3 Big East) will try to get their season back on track Saturday against Cincinnati (6-2, 2-1) at Lincoln Financial Field.
"I see the positives," Addazio said. "I hope this is the week we can put three, four quarters together against a quality team."
The Owls hope to learn soon if they'll play a 12th game this season. Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw has been trying to put the finishing touches on adding another game to the schedule, likely Dec. 7 at Hawaii. While the Owls await final word, Addazio has his team ready for the Bearcats.
He's trying to look forward because looking back at the game film has been tough to take. Addazio has to relive the missed blocks, bad passes and blown opportunities that could have turned one of their losses into a win and given them a cushion as they chase a bowl berth.
"I think," Addazio said, "(that) we're handfuls of plays away from completely different outcomes."
It's a popular refrain from losing teams. One play, one series goes the other way and suddenly that two-games-under-.500 record becomes a winning one.
"We've got to stop imploding a little bit at certain points," Addazio said. "We're closing halves out not great and coming out not great. There's a series of points that's happening because of that."
Good luck trying to turn the season around against Cincinnati. The Bearcats lead the Big East in scoring (34.2 points) and rushing yards (226.6) and snapped a two-game losing streak last week with a 35-24 win against Syracuse. Running back George Winn rushed for 165 yard against the Orange.
Even with a successful season, Bearcats coach Butch Jones is considering changing his quarterback. Jones held an open competition in practice this week between incumbent Munchie Legaux and backup Brendon Kay. The Bearcats pulled away from Syracuse last week after Jones replaced Legaux, who has thrown six interceptions in the last three games. Kay completed all three of his passes, including one for a touchdown. Cincinnati — competing with Louisville and Rutgers for the Big East title — even uses a wildcat QB, Jordan Luallen, who's also in the mix.
Jones could decide to give Kay his first start at Temple. He said the three quarterbacks have all done a great job of supporting one another.
"They are high character individuals and they understand and will be extremely supportive," Jones said. "Make no mistake about it; they are going to come out here and compete and battle against each other too."
The Bearcats used their wildcat package more extensively against Syracuse. Luallen ran six times for 32 yards and completed a pass for 14 yards. In the last three games, Legaux completed only 45 percent of his passes for 508 yards, two touchdowns and those six interceptions.
The Owls have their own issues at QB. Chris Coyer has been yanked in the fourth quarter in each of Temple's last three losses for Clinton Granger. Coyer is still the starter, but that could always change if the Owls are blown out again on Saturday.
"We're really young," Addazio said. "We're making bunch of young-guy mistakes all over the field and they're popping up at the wrong times."
That's exactly what the Bearcats are counting on.
"They did a lot of things that were really uncharacteristic of their football team last week in terms of turning the football over," Jones said. "But they have tremendous talent and they are extremely well-coached and they take on the personality of their football coach.
"They are tough and physical and I know that that's what they sell in their football program."