Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The seventh-ranked Louisville Cardinals will hit the road for just the second time this season as they visit the Temple Owls at Lincoln Financial Field in the American Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
Louisville has done all that has been asked of it thus far. The Cardinals have beaten every opponent they have faced and are sitting at 4-0. Additionally the Cardinals have been putting foes away convincingly with an average margin of victory of 41.3 points, though inflated a bit by the 72-0 rout of FIU last time out. Louisville was off this past weekend, allowing it extra time to get ready to face the challenge of league play.
"I know that we're in a conference right now where some teams have left but we still have to go play," Louisville head coach Charlie Strong said. "It doesn't matter what team or who the opponent is. It's all about Temple this week."
Temple, under first-year head coach Matt Rhule, has not been able to find any success. The Owls fell to 0-4 over the weekend with a 26-24 setback on the road at Idaho. Although three of the Owls' losses have come by single digits, they have not gone winless in their first four games since 2007. Getting into the league schedule isn't likely to help matters as the Owls went just 2-5 in- conference last year. That 2-5 mark included a 45-17 rout at the hands of the Cardinals in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. With the win the Cardinals tied the short-lived all-time series at 3-3.
You don't have to be a diehard Louisville fan to know who Teddy Bridgewater is. The Cardinals' quarterback has been performing at a stellar level this season after receiving a ton of attention in the offseason. Bridgewater is completing 71.8 percent of his pass attempts for 1,214 yards, 14 touchdowns and just a single interception. After throwing four touchdown passes against FIU, Bridgewater has now thrown for a score in 16 straight games, giving credence to a Heisman campaign.
One of the marks of a great quarterback is making your receivers better and Bridgewater is doing so with a unit that was skilled enough already. DeVante Parker has recorded a team-high 19 receptions for 331 yards and six touchdowns. Parker is one of five players to have at least 10 receptions. Damian Copeland (14 receptions, 240 yards, three TDs) and Eli Rogers (10 receptions, 205 yards, TD) also feature prominently in the offense.
There is also plenty of skill in the backfield for the Cardinals. Senorise Perry is the team's leading rusher overall (245 yards, four TDs) but Dominique Brown (176 yards, TD) and Michael Dyer (165 yards, two TDS) have each gotten plenty of work as well.
With the immense amount of talent on the offensive side, Louisville has been a force to be reckoned with, ranking second in the AAC in total offense (511.5 ypg), while converting on 63 percent of its chances on third down.
The Cardinals defense shouldn't be overlooked either. Louisville leads the conference in both points allowed (6.8 ppg) and total defense (220.5 ypg). In fact, Louisville is one of the three best defensive units in terms of yards allowed nationally, while leading the country in scoring defense.
Creating negative plays has been the key for the Cardinals, who have totaled a league leading 35 tackles for loss. Players to watch include leading tackler Preston Brown (29 tackles, 5.0 TFL) and top pass rusher Lorenzo Mauldin (4.0 sacks).
Opposing Bridgewater for the Owls is Connor Reilly. The junior has shown flashes of skill this season but has largely been inconsistent. Reilly has completed just 52.5 percent of his pass attempts and has as many touchdown passes (two) as interceptions. Reilly has thrown for at least 200 yards in three of four games, including a season-high 249 against Idaho.
Rhule has clearly put more emphasis on the passing game and that has led to expanded production from the receiving corps. Ryan Alderman (15 receptions, 221 yards, TD) has developed nicely as Reilly's favorite target, while four other players have at least 10 receptions. Jalen Fitzpatrick (14 receptions, 119 yards) and Chris Coyer (11 receptions, 100 yards, TD) are the next best wideout options.
"They try to run the zone read with the quarterback and throw the ball a lot," Strong said of his impressions of the Owls on offense. "They are throwing more this year than last year."
Kenny Harper has accumulated 112 yards on 10 receptions as a versatile running back for the Owls. Harper leads the team in rushing yards (222) and touchdowns (six) and is the only player on the squad to have rushed for 50 or more yards in three games. Zaire Williams (219 yards) will also factor into the running game.
Temple may not be the worst defensive team in the conference but it certainly isn't one of the better ones. The Owls are holding teams to 26.2 points per game but are getting lit up in terms of total defense (516.2 ypg). The Owls have kept opponents from scoring at a higher rate by allowing touchdowns on just 5-of-25 red zone trips. Tackling machine Tyler Matakevich (60 tackles, 7.0 TFL), who leads the league in stops, is the standout defender for the unit.