Something, you would think, would have to give when Temple plays at East Carolina at noon Saturday. The Owls are the lowest-scoring team in the American Athletic Conference, averaging 16.2 points. ECU allows the most points, 50.6 per game.
Yet it might be the other side of the ball that is the key for Temple. The Owls have had trouble containing dual-threat quarterbacks and will face another in Thomas Sirk, a graduate transfer from Duke.
The Pirates are averaging 24.6 points. Last week, in a 61-31 loss to current No. 18 South Florida, they trailed by just 38-31 past the midway point of the third quarter before USF scored the final 23 points.
That’s the same USF team that held Temple (2-3, 0-2 American Athletic Conference) without an offensive point in the Owls’ 43-7 loss on Sept. 21.
Last week, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Sirk completed 20 of 43 passes for 302 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed for 87 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
At Duke, he rushed for 1,041 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2014 and ’15. Sirk’s 18 career rushing touchdowns tie him for sixth among active Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks.
Sirk didn’t win the job out of camp, but he has started the last three games and completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 1,129 yards, six touchdowns, and six interceptions. He has rushed for 159 yards (3.7 avg.) and two scores.
Sirk transferred to ECU (1-4, 1-1) in May 2016, but he didn’t play last season after having surgery in September to repair a partial tear of his left Achilles tendon. He had ruptured the tendon on Feb. 9, 2016, and had surgery the following day.
“He has had a period of getting familiar with everybody, but now is the time to see him take the next step and lead the team, whether vocal or by the way he is playing,” ECU coach Scottie Montgomery said in this week’s AAC media call. “He is doing well.”
“He has got a really quick release,” Temple coach Geoff Collins said. “He is a tall kid, but the ball comes out of his arm really fast, which helps with protections.”
Temple also will have to be wary of the ECU receivers, led by Davon Grayson, a graduate student who was sidelined last season because of a back injury. The 6-2, 187-pound Grayson has 29 receptions for 495 yards and five touchdowns.
“Their receivers are fast and fundamentally sound, and they run exceptionally hard,” Temple cornerback Artrel Foster said.
Temple at ECU
Saturday, noon, Bagwell Field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville, N.C.
TV: ESPNU. Radio: WPEN-AM (97.5).
Records: Temple (2-3, 0-2 American Athletic Conference), ECU (1-4, 1-1).
History: The series is tied, 7-7.
Last meeting: Temple won, 37-10, on Nov. 26, 2016 in the final regular-season game to clinch a second straight AAC East Division title.
With running back Jager Gardner expected to be out for the season with an unspecified injury, Temple has just two scholarship running backs, Ryquell Armstead and David Hood. Last week, receiver Travon Williams got a carry at running back, gaining 11 yards. Williams, a 5-foot-8, 180-pound redshirt sophomore, gives the Owls an outside threat and needed depth, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he has a greater role going forward.
After getting nine sacks against an outmanned Massachusetts offensive line in a 29-21 win, Temple has recorded just one in the last two games. While getting sacks is always important, containing quarterback Thomas Sirk from turning the corner will be equally critical, especially for defensive ends Sharif Finch and Jacob Martin.
Look for Temple receiver Ventell Bryant to get targeted early. Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude talked earlier in the week about the importance of getting Bryant going. During Temple’s two-game losing streak, Bryant has just four receptions for 24 yards.
Temple quarterback Logan Marchi is also in a two-game slump. After not throwing an interception in the first three games, he has been picked off a total of six times in the last two. ECU has intercepted just two passes this season. Marchi and Sirk have each thrown six touchdown passes and six interceptions.
Temple rushed for a season-best 142 yards in last week’s 20-13 loss to Houston, including 150 in the second half. ECU is allowing 300 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 129th out of 130 FBS schools. Then again, the Pirates are also allowing 314.8 passing yards per game, so Temple should have opportunities whether passing or running the ball.
One reason this game is important for Temple is that if the Owls lose, they would have to go 4-2 over the final six games to become bowl-eligible. It wouldn’t be impossible, but would give them little margin for error.