Temple strung together its third straight disheartening loss on Saturday afternoon, falling to Central Florida, 49-7.
Following what, at the time, appeared to be a season-saving home win against Memphis back on Oct. 2, the Owls have fallen to Cincinnati, USF and now UCF — with a bye week included — by a combined 111 points.
Nearly everything that could have gone wrong for the Owls did.
“Penalties and turnovers and bad situational football was why the score was what it was,” coach Rod Carey said. “When you do that against a good football team, you’re going to have this.”
While UCF repeatedly marched down the field, chipping away at the Owls’ depleted defense, Temple struggled to cash in on near scoring opportunities.
Mikey Keene led the charge for the Knights with five touchdowns through the air on 229 yards. The freshman quarterback was sacked just once on the afternoon. He found receivers Ryan O’Keefe and Alec Holler for two touchdowns apiece.
Comparatively, Temple quarterback D’Wan Mathis completed 16 of 30 pass attempts for 121 yards, his second-fewest yards through the air all season. He was replaced late in the fourth quarter by freshman Justin Lynch, who was responsible for the Owls’ only score.
Saturday was the third time this season the Owls were held to seven or fewer points and the second time it happened at home.
Temple will hit the road next weekend to face East Carolina at 3 p.m. in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Entering Saturday’s contest, Temple’s defense was absent four starters in the secondary — safeties Amir Tyler, DaeSean Winston, MJ Griffin, and cornerback Keyshawn Paul — because of varying injuries.
While Jalen Ware and Alex Odom continued to see starting roles, freshman safety Corey Palmer saw an uptick in reps as did linebacker Maheem McCargo, the Owls’ BUBO who contributed his first career fumble recovery in the third quarter. Odom and cornerback Cameron Ruiz led the way on defense, each with eight total tackles.
Jalen Ware managed to record the defense’s highlight and lowlight of the afternoon on the same play.
In the waning minutes of the first half, Keene fired off a deep ball that was picked off by Ware near the right sideline. As he pivoted back to the middle of the field and was hit by two receivers, the ball popped loose, giving possession back to UCF and advancing the Knights 25 yards down the field.
Three plays later, Knights receiver Brandon Johnson hauled in an 18-yard touchdown that eventually put Temple behind, 21-0, at the half.
UCF piled on two more 30-plus-yard touchdowns aided by Temple’s secondary getting flat-out beat down the field. One that had Odom turned around, losing the ball in the air, and on the other, Palmer trailed by a step on the left side of the end zone.
Temple’s opening drive of the afternoon had a chance for something it hasn’t done all season: to score on the opening drive.
Mathis led a 10-play, 38-yard drive that put the Owls on the brink of the red zone with a chance to take an early lead over the fourth-best team in the conference.
On fourth-and-2, the Knights fired off the line of scrimmage and sacked Mathis for an 8-yard loss. The decision to go for it was by no means a poor decision based on how the offense looked at that point, but the Owls were unable to finish off an otherwise strong start.
Temple found itself in a similar situation one quarter later.
An 11-play, 53-yard drive resulted in a fumble by tight end Jordan Smith that would have otherwise converted a crucial third-and-long, potentially cutting the deficit to one score.
The Owls made it across midfield just three times the remainder of the afternoon in what was holistically a dreadful performance on that side of the ball.
Trailing, 49-0, late in the fourth quarter, their last-ditch effort to put points on the board ended with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Lynch, who found Jose Barbon down the left sideline with 28 seconds remaining in the game.
Carey said postgame that he’d like to implement Lynch more into the offense, but made it clear that there is “no quarterback controversy.” He added that Lynch could see somewhere in the realm of 10-15 plays moving forward.