The mistakes outdid the big plays on a day in which there were plenty of both for Temple’s football team.
With Memphis outscoring Temple by 21 points off turnovers, the host Tigers beat the Owls, 41-29, in Saturday’s American Athletic Conference game at the Liberty Bowl.
Temple (1-2, 1-2 AAC) committed four turnovers -- three interceptions by Anthony Russo and a fumble by running back Re’Mahn Davis, and forced three turnovers -- two fumbles and an interception.
“I feel the whole time we stopped ourselves,” receiver Jadan Blue said on the Zoom call afterward.
Nobody could stop Blue, who had 13 receptions for 115 yards and three touchdowns.
The Owls weren’t able to take advantage of a less-than-dominant performance from Brady White, the sixth-year senior quarterback who last week threw six touchdown passes and ran for another in a 50-49 win over Central Florida.
Against Temple, White completed 17 of 36 passes for 313 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. As his completion percentage showed, he wasn’t in sync a lot of times, overthrowing receivers. But he eventually had enough savvy to lead the defending AAC champion Tigers (3-1, 2-1 AAC) back from a 15-10 halftime deficit.
His counterpart, Russo, completed 41 of 63 passes for 387 yards, four touchdowns, and the three picks.
Coach Rod Carey said the Owls didn’t want to throw the ball that much, but it was out of necessity.
“The run game was OK, but we were playing catch-up the whole day,” Carey said.
Temple played without four key starters. Tight end David Martin-Robinson did not make the trip due to COVID-19 protocol. Linebackers Isaiah Graham-Mobley and Yvandy Rigby, and guard Adam Klein were sidelined by injuries.
Still, the Owls were able to compete with a Memphis team that had lost only to fellow AAC contender SMU, 30-27.
Because of turnovers, the game changed midway through the third quarter. Two plays after the Tigers got to within 15-13 on Riley Patterson’s 42-yard field goal on the fist series of the second half, Rodney Owens made the first of his two interceptions on a long overthrown pass by Russo intended for Blue.
“I should have kept running on that. That is not his fault,” Blue said of Russo.
Two plays later, White hit Calvin Austin on an out pattern, which the speedy receiver turned up field for a 65-yard touchdown, making it 20-15 Memphis.
After rushing for 23 yards on Temple’s first play of the next series, Davis fumbled on the second. Defensive tackle O’Bryan Goodson, who gave Temple fits all day, recovered on the Tigers' 46.
Two plays later, White found explosive freshman Tahj Washington for a 26-yard scoring pass, increasing the lead to 27-15 with 6 minutes, 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
From there, Temple was truly in catch-up mode. Blue caught a 32-yard scoring pass later in the quarter, but Memphis went up, 34-22, on White’s 7-yard strike to Jason Ivory with 12:02 left in the game.
The next series, Blue caught a ball near the line of scrimmage, and ran it in for an 8-yard score, closing the Memphis lead to 34-29 with 10:11 remaining.
The Tigers' Kylan Watkins sealed matters with a 15-yard touchdown run up the middle on a third-and-6 play with 2:15 left. It capped an eight-play, 88-yard drive.
Before that drive, Carey elected to punt on fourth-and-9 from the Memphis 45 with just over five minutes remaining.
“It certainly crossed my mind,” Carey said about going for the first down. “But a [nearly] fourth-and-10 with all three timeouts and five minutes left, we felt like we had just stopped them, and felt like we could do it again.”
Temple’s Randle Jones caught 12 passes for 118 yards, and Branden Mack had six receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown. Davis rushed for 113 yards on 20 carries.
The Owls have lost by two at Navy, won by two against USF, and played the defending champs toe-to-toe. But they face an uphill battle in an 11-team league in which the top two will compete for the championship.