The Duke Blue Devils and the Temple Owls face off in the 43rd annual Walk-On’s Independence Bowl on Thursday.
Kickoff is 12:30 p.m. at Independence Stadium.
Duke, under head coach David Cutcliffe, brings a 7-5 record into the contest.
Temple, under interim head coach Ed Foley, is 8-4. Former head coach Geoff Collins left to become the head coach at Texas Tech. Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was named as his successor on Dec. 13.
Foley will be coaching with a heavy heart. His younger brother, Cliff, passed away suddenly on Dec. 21, in Plano, Texas. He said his mother and Cliff’s daughter Marissa and son Ryan are in Shreveport now.
“The people of Shreveport and Bossier City and our football team have gotten around my mother,” Foley said at Wednesday morning’s press conference.
“We had a Christmas dinner last night, and I think every player on the team
came up to my mom and hugged her. It was really comforting to have that happen.”
This will be the first meeting between the teams.
“We’re playing an outstanding football team,” Cutcliffe said. “How do you beat a really good football team? That’s a challenge. Obviously, we’ll have to do all the small things and be consistent.
“If I had to pick one theme for us going into this particular game is our consistency. We need to put 60 minutes together that blends our offense, defense and certainly our special teams. Temple is outstanding in all three areas, but they certainly provide a challenge in the area of special teams.”
Cutcliffe said it’s difficult to predict how the game will play out. If each team can limit the number of explosive plays, it will be low-scoring, he said. If not, it could go the other way.
“Both teams are balanced football teams,” he said. “In the kicking game, it’s a good head-to-head battle. Both defenses are quality and had big moments throughout the season. Certainly, both offenses have done explosive things in the season. I think it’s one of the premier matchups of the bowl week and the bowl season. People on television and certainly people here locally are going to see great football.”
Duke started the season strong, winning five of its first six games. But the Blue Devils won just two of their last six.
The schedule included 10 FBS teams that earned bowl bids.
The Blue Devils went 3-5 in the ACC, finishing sixth in the Coastal division.
Duke is playing in its sixth bowl game in the last seven seasons.
Cutcliffe is making his fourth appearance as a head coach in the local bowl. He was inducted into the Independence Bowl Hall of Honor in 2003.
Cutcliffe’s Ole Miss teams won the 1998, 1999 and 2002 games.
Offensively, the Blue Devils are led by redshirt junior quarterback Daniel Jones, senior wideout T.J. Rahming and sophomore running back Deon Jackson.
Jones, who ranks fourth in the ACC in passing yards per game (225.1), has thrown for 2,251 yards and 17 touchdowns while rushing for 325 yards and an additional two scores.
“He’s the guy that makes them go,” Foley said. “In our conference, we’ve got some really good quarterbacks but the style of play in our conference is different. Between (D’Eriq) King from Houston and ( McKenzie) Milton from UCF, they’ve thrown for a zillion yards, but they’re like super-fast offenses, RPO offenses, quick game. This (Duke) is a classic pro offense. Jones has a cannon for an arm. He’s a big dude who’s tough to get down.”
Rahming, an All-ACC selection for the second straight season, leads the Blue Devils with 63 receptions for 571 yards and six touchdowns.
Jackson garnered second team All-ACC honors as an all-purpose back after rushing for 806 yards and seven touchdowns, catching 24 passes for 246 yards and two scores and totaling 443 yards on 20 kickoff returns.
On defense, a pair of All-ACC linebackers in junior Joe Giles-Harris and senior Ben Humphreys spearhead a unit which ranks sixth in the league in scoring defense.
Giles-Harris is questionable because of knee injury sustained in a victory over Miami on Nov. 3.
“We’re not sure,” Cutcliffe said Wednesday. “He’s gotten some practice time. We’re right down to the final hour. The big part of that with veteran players is they have to feel right about their bodies, be in position to protect themselves.
“He’s given everything he can to get himself ready, but it’s been a challenge, particularly on the defensive side who have battled through injuries. We’ve had a lot of other people that we’ve repped just in case Joe can’t play.”
Temple is riding a three-game winning streak. The Owls won six of their last seven, falling only to undefeated Central Florida 52-40 on the road during that stretch.
Temple finished second in the American Athletic Conference’s East Division.
“Temple is a complete defense,” Duke’s Jones said. “We have watched a lot of their film. They can rush the passer consistently, and statistically, they are among the top sack leaders.
“Their secondary is strong. As a defense, they just do a bunch of things well. I think playing the Temple defense is more about how we have prepared and how we play as a team. They are very good.”
Sophomore quarterback Anthony Russo led the Owls to a 7-2 record after taking over as starter. He has thrown for 2,335 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Ryquell Armstead leads the Owls in rushing with 1,035 yards on 65 carries and 13 touchdowns.
Ventell Bryant (47 catches, 659 yards) and Brandon Mack (41-556) are the leading receivers.
The defense allowed 356.7 yards per game during the regular season.
Linebacker Shaun Bradley, defensive tackle Michael Dogbe, safety Delvon Randall and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin were named first-team all-conference.
Return specialist Isaiah Wright was named the conference’s special teams Player of the Year.