Temple foe Central Florida on a big-time roll

George O'Leary , the veteran coach at Central Florida, has the Knights playing at a high level. AP
George O'Leary , the veteran coach at Central Florida, has the Knights playing at a high level. AP
Posted: November 17, 2013

Looking back over the nine games Temple has played this season, its meetings with formerly ranked Notre Dame and No. 19 Louisville obviously stand out as games against big-time opponents.

But Saturday's American Athletic Conference game at Lincoln Financial Field against surging Central Florida (No. 15) not only sees the Owls (1-8, 0-5) facing off against their third nationally ranked foe of the season, but the Knights (7-1, 4-0), who lead the conference and are bowl eligible for the fourth time in five seasons under coach George O'Leary, are peaking.

"They have two of the better players in the conference in [quarterback] Blake Bortles and [running back] Storm Johnson," Rhule said. "And they have done a good job of putting it all together. That is the sign of a good team."

Johnson, a junior, leads the Knights with 719 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on 142 carries. Junior quarterback Bortles has completed 150 of 222 passes for 2,080 yards and 15 touchdowns.

The Knights' only loss was to No. 11 South Carolina, 28-25, in late September. And they have impressive road wins this season at Penn State and No. 19 Louisville. Last week, they won their fourth straight game by holding Houston's potent offense 27 points below the 41 it averaged before a 19-14 victory in what at the time was a battle of conference unbeatens.

Defensively they are allowing just 18.6 points per game, thanks to a red zone defense ranked seventh nationally. The opportunistic defense also ranks eighth in both fumbles recovered (11) and turnover margin (1.0)

Unlike Rhule, when O'Leary took over at Central Florida he had already coached Georgia Tech for eight seasons and had taken the Yellow Jackets to five bowl games. And like Rhule, before he took over at Central Florida in 2004, O'Leary spent two seasons on the staff of an NFL team, in O'Leary's case the Minnesota Vikings, the last as the team's defensive coordinator.

O'Leary was hired as Notre Dame's head coach in December 2001 only to be fired five days later after admitting that he lied about his academic and athletic background.

In the 10 seasons he has spent at UCF, O'Leary has led the Knights to a 67-56 record. However, they have been at their best over the last four seasons (33-15).

As well as the Knights are playing, though, O'Leary believes that the Owls are heading in the right direction under Rhule, who is in his first season at Temple.

"They have probably been the most improved team in the conference each week when you watch them as far as developing their own identity," O'Leary said. "We struggled in my first season so I know what it's like. But they are improving each week."


Central Florida at Temple

When: Saturday at noon.

Where: Lincoln Financial Field.

Records: UCF (7-1, 4-0 American Athletic Conference); Temple (1-8, 0-5 AAC).

TV/Radio: ESPN Regional; WPHT-AM (1210)

Coaches: UCF, George O'Leary (10th year, 66-56; overall, 118-89); Matt Rhule (1st year, 1-8)

Series: This is the first meeting.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

The biggest question mark for Temple is whether or not tight end Chris Coyer, who suffered an ankle injury against Rutgers, will play. Coyer was still limping late in the week but did not require crutches to move about.

In their previous meeting with ranked teams, the Owls trailed at halftime by the combined score of 45-6. If an upset is to be even remotely possible, the Owls can't let the Knights march up and down the field against them without responding.

While having an impressive season, the Knights have won four games by seven points or fewer.

THREE THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW

The three ranked teams the Owls face this season (Notre Dame, Louisville and UCF) represent the most ranked teams the Owls will play since they played four (Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Boston College) in 2004.

The Knights are the only program in the country with three sets of twins: senior offensive linemen Jordan and Justin, McCray; freshman defensive backs Shaquem and Shaquill Griffin; and freshmen defensive backs Damonte and Jamonte Jones.

The Knights are one of four new opponents for Temple this season. The others: Notre Dame, Idaho and final opponent Memphis.

- John N. Mitchell


jmitchell@philly.com

@JmitchInquirer

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