Featured graphic courtesy of Lauren Anikis
No. 24 Temple (10-3) vs. Wake Forest (6-6)
Where: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
When: Tuesday, December 27 at 3:30 p.m. EST on ESPN
No. 24 Temple
How they got here:
Temple came into the year looking to build off its 2015 season in which the Owls won 10 games for the first time since 1979 and appeared in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game. The Owls were picked to finish second in the AAC preseason media poll and only one of 30 voters picked them to win the conference.
Temple went 2-2 in its nonconference schedule, losing two tough games to Army and eventual Big Ten Champion Penn State while defeating Stony Brook and Charlotte. After beating SMU to begin conference play, Temple blew a 13-0 lead in a loss to Memphis in which its conference championship hopes took a significant hit. However, the Owls recovered the very next week with a last-second win over UCF that propelled them to six consecutive conference wins and a spot in the AAC Championship Game. The Owls were going up against a Navy that was ranked No. 19 at the time, but the Midshipmen lost starting quarterback Will Worth to injury and Temple cruised to a 34-10 victory and a conference title.
Why they can win:
The Owls offense has run the ball 72.6 percent of the time so far this season, and it will try to run the ball down down Wake Forest’s throat in this game. Temple has 31 rushing touchdowns this season, which ranks 17th in the country, and it has rushed for over 191 yards per game. The attack is a two-headed monster of Jahad Thomas and Ryquell Armstead, who have both rushed for exactly 918 yards on the season.
Although the running game may be the dominant factor for the Owls, they are still effective when they throw the ball. Quarterback Phillip Walker is averaging 8.38 yards per attempt this season, which ranks 25th nationally. Walker has thrown 20 touchdowns on the season, but even when the Owls don’t get into the end zone, they can rely on kicker Aaron Boumerhi to put points on the scoreboard. After taking over for injured starting kicker Austin Jones in October, Boumerhi is 11-for-13 on field goals and has converted 27-of-28 extra points.
On the defensive side of the ball, Temple relies on its front seven, which has helped the team come up with 37 sacks on the season, good for 13th in the nation. The Owls will look to feed on a young Wake Forest offensive line that has struggled this season. The Demon Deacons have allowed 36 sacks this season, which is the 12th most in college football. Plus, the Owls will only have to worry about the rushing attack for Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons rank 115th in passing offense in the FBS, throwing for only 159.3 yards per game.
Player to Watch: DE Haason Reddick
Reddick looks to be maybe Temple’s best prospect for the upcoming NFL Draft because of how well he is producing on the field. The senior defensive lineman is leading the FBS with 21.5 tackles for loss and his 10 sacks rank 19th in the nation. Reddick has also forced one fumble this season and has even picked off a pass. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound defensive end is one of the big reasons why Temple has so much success getting to the quarterback, and the struggling offensive line of Wake Forest will have its hands full with this matchup.
How they got here:
Wake Forest yet again came into the 2016 season with low expectations after seven losing seasons in a row. But a fairly easy schedule opened the door for the Demon Deacons to get back to a bowl game. They started season hot, winning their first four games and five of their first six, including impressive road wins over Duke and Indiana. The Deacons then had six chances to get that sixth win for bowl eligibility, but stumbled in their first two attempts, losing tough games to Florida State and Army. Finally, Wake Forest got a struggling Virginia team at the perfect time, and used a fourth quarter comeback to down the Cavaliers and get to 6-3, making them bowl eligible for the first time 2011. However, the Deacons limped to finish line, losing their last three games to finish 6-6.
Why they can win:
Wake Forest should have a little less trouble winning games now that former assistant coach and broadcaster Tommy Elrod has been stopped from sharing plays and game information with its opponents. There’s a possibility that the Demon Deacons were going into every game this season with a disadvantage, and they managed to overcome that and still win six games.
To reach six wins for the first time since 2011, Wake Forest relied on its defense throughout the season. The Demon Deacons ranked 13th in the nation with 37 sacks on the season, which interestingly enough is tied with Temple. They also force a lot of turnovers, 25 to be exact, and rank third in the country with 14 fumble recoveries. Because Wake Forest also tries to limit the turnovers on offense, they rank 14th in the nation with a turnover margin of plus eight.
Although Wake Forest offense may not have many big playmakers, it still has some success because of its discipline. The Deacons commit only 4.5 penalties per game, which ranks them 12th in the FBS. If Wake Forest can turn the game into a defensive battle and continue to limit penalties on both sides of a ball, that ball-hawking defense could be one big turnover away from pulling an upset.
Player to Watch: LB Marquel Lee
Lee was probably Wake Forest’s best overall defensive player this season and was rewarded with his selection to the All-ACC second team. The senior linebacker led the team with 98 total tackles and 19 tackles for loss this season. He also topped the team rankings with three forced fumbles while ranking second in sacks with 7.5. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker is a big reason why Wake Forest has had so much defensive success this season, and Lee will need one more dominant game to help his draft stock and to help the Demon Deacons pull off the upset and the winning season.
Edited by Max Marcilla
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