Temple safety Jalen Ware had a clean interception and return for 27 yards to East Carolina’s 25-yard line in the second quarter.

What felt like a hopeful and optimistic turnaround for the Owls, who were down by a touchdown at the time, turned into Temple’s offense missing a field goal and another wasted opportunity.

Temple (3-7, 1-5 American Athletic Conference) was blown out, 45-3, by the Pirates (5-4, 3-2) in Greenville, N.C., Saturday afternoon.

A lack of offensive efficiency from the start has been a hallmark of the 2021 Owls and was further emphasized when quarterback D’Wan Mathis was injured in the second quarter and ruled out for the rest of the game. His injury status is still unclear.

ECU had no problem scoring, thanks to sloppy tackling by Temple’s defense — despite having key players in the secondary returning from injuries.

As Temple rides a four-game losing streak with three tough competitors left on the schedule, looking toward the future might be a good option at this point.

Temple will take on first-place Houston on Saturday (noon) at Lincoln Financial Field.

“We have to coach better,” Carey said. “That’s what we have to be better at.”

Temple’s bleak offense

The best drive for the Owls came in the second quarter when running back Malik Cooper ran for 14 yards to midfield. Receiver Randle Jones, who had 32 receiving yards, extended the drive with two more plays, but Temple couldn’t get inside ECU’s 20.

In his short time in the game, Mathis had to scramble for yardage despite decent pass protection because his receivers couldn’t get open.

In the second quarter, Mathis was apparently injured when he was sacked on a third-down play. Backup Justin Lynch, whom Carey said would see 10-15 snaps per game, came under center to finish the first half.

Mathis was officially ruled out for the rest of the game at the start of the second half.

“We were hopeful he would be able to come back,” Carey said. “We will know more on Sunday and Monday.”

With Lynch under center, Carey and offensive coordinator Mike Uremovich changed their play calls to more quarterback-designed runs, since Carey said Lynch, who had 54 rushing yards, is better running the ball.

Same mistakes

Continuous mistakes by the defense are hurting the team.

Despite having safeties Amir Tyler and MJ Griffin and cornerback Keyshawn Paul in the backfield, the Owls still made sloppy tackles and miscommunication in coverage.

Temple’s rushing defense is ranked No. 123 among BCS schools, having allowed 21 touchdowns on the ground.

ECU running backs Rahjai Harris and Keaton Mitchell were dual threats against Temple’s defensive line.

Mitchell broke several would-be tackles by the Owls, which led to him rushing for 146 yards and two touchdowns. His best run came at the start of the third quarter when he found an open hole in Temple’s Dd-line and ran up the middle for a 57-yard touchdown.

As for Harris, his 224-pound frame did not make it easy for the Owls to take down. He ran for 43 yards arris had 43-rushing yards and extended multiple drives into Temple’s territory.

However, the Pirates found the majority of their points in the air, with quarterback Holton Ahlers throwing for three touchdowns.

In the first quarter, Ahlers, who threw for 191 yards, made a clean 30-yard pass up the middle to open receiver Ryan Jones for a touchdown.

Temple’s miscommunication in zone coverage led ECU to convert on crucial third downs, and Jones, who totaled three touchdowns, took advantage of every open space on the field.

Besides Ware’s interception, safety Freddie Johnson had a late interception in the fourth quarter, which he returned for 25 yards to ECU’s 29.

Special teams

The only points Temple’s offense recorded came on a 46-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

However, kicker Rory Bell missed two field goals in the second quarter, one from 42 yards and the other from 43.

“We have to coach better, we have to play better,” Carey said