COLLEGE PARK, Md. — It was the worst kind of indictment for a team, but Temple quarterback Anthony Russo hasn’t minced words when he talks about last year’s 56-27 loss to Duke in the Independence Bowl.
Russo basically suggested earlier in the season that some players simply quit in the game in which Temple jumped to a 27-14 lead, but saw Duke score the game’s final 42 points, including 35 in the second half. The Owls were torched by Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, who threw for 423 yards and five touchdowns to earn the game’s offensive MVP.
Now as Temple (8-4) meets North Carolina (6-6) Friday at noon in the Military Bowl at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., the Owls are looking to put last year way behind them.
“We never want to be a team when we go down we quit,” Russo said earlier this week as the Owls practiced at the University of Maryland’s indoor facility. “It is something we talked about after the bowl game last year and talked about in the offseason. Right now, we are talking about doing anything we can to give these seniors one last win and go out the right way.”
Last year certainly wasn’t the right way, but the conditions weren’t ideal. After the final regular season game, coach Geoff Collins left to take over at Georgia Tech. He hired many of his Temple assistants, but insisted that they coach in the Dec. 27 bowl game. Ed Foley, who was Temple’s tight ends and special teams coach, guided the Owls in the Independence Bowl.
At the time, Manny Diaz had been named to replace Collins, but he decided to finish out his role as defensive coordinator at the University of Miami, which lost to Wisconsin, 35-3, in the Pinstripe Bowl that same day. (Diaz would resign from Temple three days later to take the head coaching job at Miami, ending an 18-day tenure with the Owls).
“A college football game in itself has a ton of ups and downs, a ton of emotions and you mix all that emotion with the off-the-field stuff with the coaches and I think it was kind of a bad recipe for us, but we just had to battle through it,” Russo recalled. “This year we have our coaching staff, we know who we are playing for, we know our scheme and our game plan and have to execute it.”
What a difference a year makes. Jones, the Duke quarterback, became the No. 6 overall pick in the draft by the New York Giants and this week he faces an Eagles team that can earn a playoff berth with a win.
“It’s pretty funny, I actually was down at the Giants-Eagles game when they played on Monday night two weeks ago and was talking to him down on the field and he actually recognized me,” Russo said, referring to the Eagles’ 23-17 overtime win on Dec. 9. “I didn’t think he’d recognize me. I talked to him a little bit, just from talking to him after the game last year with Duke and it was pretty funny.”
There was nothing funny about last year.
“I didn’t like last year at all, it left a real sour taste,” said two-time first-team all-conference linebacker Shaun Bradley.
This is also a big bowl game for first-year Temple coach Rod Carey, who enjoyed great success at Northern Illinois, with a 52-30 record and two Mid-American Conference championships. One blemish on his record is that NIU, under Carey, was 0-6 in bowl games. He said that record aside, his mindset is always the same – trying to win, whether it’s the first game of the year against Bucknell or a bowl game against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.
“Listen, I haven’t won one,” Carey said. “You can get surly about it but it’s not like we aren’t trying. We, the players and myself, want to win every game we play and this bowl game is no different.”
Even though Carey wasn’t around last year he understands the frustration from the Duke loss.
“There is definitely a bad taste in these guys’ mouth about last year’s bowl game,” Carey said. “There were a lot of circumstances around it, everything is different, right, but the facts still remain they have that thought in the back of their minds and they have been motivated and it has been good.”