(21) East Carolina (6-1) at Temple (4-3) (ET)
GAME NOTES: One of the best offenses in the country returns to action on Saturday, as the 21st-ranked East Carolina Pirates make the voyage north to challenge the Temple Owls in an American Athletic Conference brawl at Lincoln Financial Field.
ECU in kicking off a two-game road trip this weekend, with a stern road test at Cincinnati coming next on Nov. 13. The Pirates' vaunted offensive attack has been a bit more grounded of late, but a 31-21 victory over Connecticut last weekend was the fifth straight for the program, which is 6-1 overall and a perfect 3-0 in league play. The Pirates are also the only team in the AAC to find themselves in the national rankings, although that doesn't mean much to coach Ruffin McNeill.
"We don't coach for rankings. I've never coached that way and I'm not going to start now," McNeill said. "What we coach is playing our best on every play and embracing our roles to make the team better. That's what we can control."
As for Temple, it needs to get to back to winning. Consecutive road losses to Houston (31-10) and UCF (34-14) have spoiled the surprising 4-1 start the Owls had.
"It's one thing to win or lose, but we haven't played the way we want to play," Temple coach Matt Rhule said of the last two weeks. "We're a little bit rattled, our confidence is a little bit shaken. We better quickly regain our confidence if we want to play at a high level."
Temple is still on pace for a bowl bid, but this game begins a brutal stretch. The Owls will play a much improved Memphis team next weekend and follow that up with a trip to Penn State.
Although it has been the premier team in the AAC this season, ECU is in its first year in the league. Despite this being the first time these teams have met as conference foes, the Pirates and Owls have played 11 times previously, with the former earning a victory eight times.
Led by an explosive passing attack, ECU has been nearly impossible to stop on offense. The Pirates rank fourth in the country in total offense (566.9 ypg) and they are the highest scoring team in the AAC (39.6 ppg).
Shane Carden threw for a season-high 445 yards in ECU's win over UConn last time out. However, he connected on only 59.4 percent of his pass attempts and also threw his fifth interception of the season. Carden had completed at least 60 percent of his throws in the previous three games. In all, Carden has racked up an AAC-leading 2,574 yards through the air to go with 18 touchdowns and a .646 completion percentage.
A trio of receivers get the bulk of the passes from Harden. Justin Hardy is clearly the best of the lot, as he leads the team with 61 receptions for 779 yards and six touchdowns. He recorded season-highs in receptions (14) and yards (186) against UConn. Isaiah Jones (52 receptions, 553 yards, four TDs) and Cam Worthy (23 receptions, 496 yards, TD) also are having strong seasons.
In the backfield, Breon Allen is the top option, with 569 yards, six touchdowns and a pair of 100-yard games under his belt.
One area the Pirates can improve on both sides of the ball is remaining disciplined. ECU has been penalized more than any team in the AAC this season, with 62 infractions, which have resulted in a loss of 606 yards.
"No coaches want penalties. We'll address them and keep working on them," McNeill said.
If they can figure out the penalty issue, the Pirates might be doing even better and winning by larger margins. After all, in addition to their powerful offense, they are also performing well on defense, allowing only 23.4 points and 368.6 yards per game.
On the other side, Temple may be one of the better scoring teams in the conference (30.7 ppg), but it ranks just seventh in total offense (343.7 ypg). Such low yardage totals have begun to take their toll on the scoring output, with the Owls failing to reach 15 points in each of the last two weeks.
P.J. Walker continues to be a work in progress under center. He has provided plenty of bright moments, but has made a lot of mistakes as well. Walker has completed 58.5 percent of his pass attempts for 1,469 yards and 11 touchdowns, which is not a much better number than his interception total (nine). He had a lot of trouble against UCF, finishing with only 111 yards and two picks on 15- of-26 passing.
Jalen Fitzpatrick is the top receiving threat on the roster, with 30 receptions for 432 yards and five touchdowns. No other player has more than 20 catches or 250 yards.
Jahad Thomas is the team's most productive running back, averaging 6.1 yards per carry while rushing for a total of 334 yards. Jamie Gilmore (190 yards) and Kenneth Harper (118 yards) work into the rotation as well.
Temple's defense is also trending in the wrong direction, with the team giving up at least 30 points and 420 yards in each of the last three weeks. If the Owls continue to play so poorly, their season averages in overall defense (362.6 ypg) and scoring defense (19.6 ppg) will begin to slide down the AAC rankings.
There is no denying that Temple has far exceeded expectations this season. However, it seems as if the Owls are beginning to regress back to the team that won only two games last year. That is not the type of momentum that will help push them past ECU.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 38, Temple 21