Cincinnati heads to Temple with eye on AAC title game berth

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — It may be a road game against a three-win team in a stadium that’s likely to be more empty than full. But Cincinnati head football coach Luke Fickell went to great lengths this week to make sure his team understood the urgency of the moment.

“We’re going to change the whole mindset going on the road and get our guys back into understanding this is when the playoffs start,” Fickell said. “That’s just the reality. You’re in that situation now.”

Cincinnati’s dreams of a fourth straight trip to the American Athletic Conference championship game rest on heading to Philadelphia and beating a Temple team on Saturday (4 p.m.) that has been pesky as of late.

“We have always wanted to play for championships, and I think that now you are in a position where it is all or nothing,” Fickell said. “I am not saying that every game isn’t like that, but you are trying to put in a little bit more of an emphasis on what you need to do and you want to make sure these guys understand that.”

The Bearcats (8-2, 5-1 AAC) have lived a bit on the edge. Cincinnati’s last six games – all in AAC play — have been decided by 10 points or less, including last week’s 27-25 win over East Carolina that was decided on Ryan Coe’s 21-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

“One of the bigger differences is, even in year one or two, guys expect to win,” Fickell said. “Yes, they prepare, they do all those things. But when it comes down to crunch time, a lot of times, it’s about an expectation. Who really believes they can get it done? We panic at times, and we show immaturity a lot of times. Then suddenly, in these really critical moments, you see this mature group step up.”

That has allowed Cincinnati to remain tied with Central Florida and Tulane at the top of the AAC standings with a showdown with the Green Wave looming next weekend at Nippert Stadium. (Cincinnati lost to UCF on Oct. 29, 25-21, for its lone conference setback.)

“They are tenacious,” said Stan Drayton, the head coach of Temple (3-7, 1-5). “They play very hard and they are very confident. They have good team speed all around and they are balanced.”

PACE CAR FOR CINCY

Even with all the weapons that Cincinnati has on offense like quarterback Ben Bryant and wide receivers Tre Tucker, Tyler Scott and Jaden Thompson, it was the Bearcats defense that caught Drayton’s eye. Chief among that was senior linebacker Ivan Pace Jr., who has nine sacks and 17 tackles for loss.

NO LOVE IN PHILLY

Cincinnati has seen seasons slip up at Lincoln Financial Field. On the last trip to Philadelphia in 2018, the Bearcats entered the game undefeated at 6-0 and ranked 20th in the country. They left with a 24-17 overtime loss — part of a legacy that includes a 3-8 record against the Owls in the City of Brotherly Love.

“Temple was always a tough place, a tough place to play, and they’re always a tough team,” Tucker said. “So, I think everyone’s going to be on high alert.”

E.J. IS OK

Freshman quarterback E.J. Warner — the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner — threw for a school-record 486 passing yards and three touchdown passes in a 43-36 loss at Houston last week. In the last three weeks, Temple has scored 36.7 points per game — and yet, only has a 1-2 record to show for it.

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