A Temple season that was going so smoothly hit a major road bump the last two weeks. First it was a 45-21 loss at SMU, and then on Saturday night a 63-21 thrashing by Central Florida in a game in which host Temple was outscored 35-0 in the second half.
Temple is 5-3 overall and 2-2 in the American Athletic Conference. The Owls aren’t out of contention for a division title, but they need an about-face and a slump by Cincinnati (6-1, 3-0) in order to get back into the picture.
Here are five observations from the game
Loss of confidence?
The players and coach Rod Carey insisted that Temple is as confident and determined as ever.
“Worry about their confidence and how they don’t have any?” Carey said in reply to a question after the game. “Not this group. They are a confident group.”
Added quarterback Anthony Russo: “I don’t think our confidence lacks. I think we need to stick together as a team.”
That said, there seems to be some doubt in the minds of the Owls, especially after being burned for so many big plays. Over the last two weeks, Temple has allowed six touchdowns of 30 or more yards, including three of 60 or more.
Did the Owls lose their fight?
The UCF onslaught showed a discouraged Temple team. When asked if the Owls lost their fight, linebacker Shaun Bradley, replied: “No. we had little mistakes. Things happen in a game.”
It’s admirable that players such as Russo and Bradley face the music after such tough defeats, but there was nothing little about the mistakes.
This is a proud group that always preaches toughness and that will be tested.
While Temple has some outstanding athletes, in the last two losses the Owls looked slow. SMU’s receivers ran circles around them, and UCF’s running backs had a field day, with the Knights rushing for 385 yards (8.0 average) and five touchdowns. Frequently, the UCF backs simply sped past Temple defenders, such as on Adrian Killins’ 48-yard touchdown run that gave the Knights a 14-7 advantage, a lead they would never relinquish.
Where’s the running game?
In the loss to SMU, Temple rushed for 69 yards on 33 carries. Against UCF, the Owls gained 45 yards on 40 carries. Part of it was that Russo was sacked four times, but the ground game still was stalled the last two weeks. Against UCF, freshman Re’Mahn Davis rushed for 26 yards on 12 carries. Redshirt senior Jager Gardner had 11 carries for 13 yards. (Carey also mentioned that redshirt freshman Kyle Dobbins is sidelined with an injury)
A major reason for the struggling run game Saturday was that UCF’s defense was as fast as its offense and was able to chase down Davis and Gardner as they tried to go outside. On Saturday, the Temple offensive line clearly missed center Matt Hennessy, who was out with a concussion, but still, the Owls were dominated on both lines of scrimmage. In addressing the running game struggles, Carey said, “We certainly had holes in there. At times, we missed some, at times we didn’t get a block, and at times they adjusted too, so it was a combination.”
Everybody agreed that Temple needs a serious breather. The Owls won’t return to action until Nov. 7, when they visit South Florida. Temple has some key injuries and the Owls hope to be mended by then. Safety Benny Walls missed the last three games with an upper-body injury. The Owls’ top defensive lineman, Ifeanyi Meijeh, was sidelined against UCF. Those are two of the Owls’ best defensive players and the team no doubt missed them, but this is a time of year when injuries can mount and teams have to adjust. Temple has to hope that there is enough time to rest the battered bodies, but a mental breather at this stage is also welcome.