Defense is a must for the Temple Owls against the Cincinnati Bearcats

(Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

Fresh off another W, the Temple Owls are set to welcome nationally ranked Cincinnati to Philly, but can their defense diffuse the Bearcats’ electric offense?

Coach Geoff Collins and the Temple Owls escaped the trap game at Navy last weekend by a slim margin. Thanks to the heroics of redshirt sophomore starting quarterback Anthony Russo and a resurgence of a recently nonexistent Ventell Bryant, Temple pulled out a close one with a fourth-quarter surge in Annapolis.

Now, the Owls face their first true test since Russo was named top gunslinger. The Cincinnati Bearcats enter this weekend’s matchup ranked 20th in the AP poll and have yet to meet an opponent capable of handing them a loss.

Both teams match up relatively even. Temple enters the game as three-and-a-half point favorites because of “home field advantage” but this one could end up a battle through the air.

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If you read my weekly Temple previews, you know that I have a semi-man crush for Russo, and he went off against Navy for 300 yards and a touchdown. Most impressive was that the young quarterback flashed his clutch gene and delivered a dime-piece for a 62-yard eventual game-winning touchdown.

While the Owls’ aerial attack is at full force, their running back core is short one man. It just happens to be their leading rusher Ryquell Armstead who was sidelined last week with an ankle injury that could’ve been avoided against ECU. Armstead is listed as day-to-day and it is still uncertain whether he will get the nod against the Bearcats.

Should he not be able to go, junior Jager Gardner and senior fullback Rob Ritrovato will lead the rushing attack and the load may once again fall heavily on Russo’s shoulders to put up points through the air.

On the other sideline, the Bearcats have a ferocious offense that can burn you both through the air and on the ground. They’re averaging almost 470 total yards of offense per game and feature two serious playmakers.

Freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder is equipped with a cannon that can toss the long ball downfield with pinpoint accuracy. The finesse and touch with which he delivers his ball is an ability that Russo should take notes on, being that he is known to deliver mid-range rockets with too much heat for his receivers to handle.

Ridder surpassed the 1,000-yard mark through the air six games into the season and has 315 rushing yards with four touchdowns on the ground to go along with his 10 through the air.

An ideal dual-threat quarterback for the college game is enough to challenge the Owls’ defense, but they’re also dealing with a running back with some serious lateral cutting ability that reflects some of the moves Shady pulled off years ago on the turf at the Linc.

Michael Warren II, Cincinnati’s sophomore feature back, has exploded in his first season taking first-team reps. Warren has over 600 yards on the ground and already reached the end zone 11 times.

Tag in Tavion Thomas to score a quick touchdown on top of the four he already earned this season while Warren takes a breather and you’re looking at an offensive with enough threats to keep the Temple defense on their toes at all times.

Despite all of Cincinnati’s offensive weapons, this game is absolutely winnable for the Owls. Let’s not forget that the Bearcats have been filling up the stat sheets against perennial powerhouses such as Alabama A&M and Miami (OH). One of the only teams that gave them a run was Chip Kelly’s sad excuse of a team at UCLA.

Meanwhile, the Owls upset Maryland with plenty of breathing room on the road and then went neck and neck on with an extremely impressive Boston College squad who tasted the national rankings this season on the road yet again.

The key to an Owls victory this weekend is for their Temple Tuff defensive line shuts down the Bearcats’ running game, forcing Ridder to beat them through the air. He’s a freshman who has yet to experience a major hiccup and he could be handed his first if the Owls press him into testing their lockdown secondary. The verdict is out and the only way to beat Temple is on the ground, with teams averaging almost 50 rush attempts per game as opposed to a mere 33 attempts through the air.

It’s going to come down to which Temple defense shows up. If the D that held Maryland to just 130 rushing yards shows up, Temple could win this one by double digits, but should they mimic a performance like the 270-yard debacle at Boston College you can pull out your popcorn because we’ll be in for a Big-12 style shootout.

I’m afraid to say that I believe it’s going to be Russo versus the Cincy rushing attack. The good news is that I have 200 percent faith in Russo to carry this team to victory yet again, barring any more ridiculously stupid and unnecessary interceptions in the red zone with the lead in the fourth quarter such as last week’s.

Next. Growing pains shape the future for Anthony Russo, Temple football. dark

I’m predicting the Owls kick off this tough four-game stretch with a 42-38 win as Russo goes for four TD’s to knock the Bearcats out of the rankings.