A gap appeared, all daylight between Shaun Bradley and that Maryland tailback with the ball. Temple’s star linebacker bit hard into his mouthpiece, he reported later.
“It was the best feeling ever,’’ Bradley said. “Like a kid with toys -- Christmas.”
Everyone saw more toys get unwrapped, one at a time Saturday afternoon inside Lincoln Financial Field. Four running plays by the same Terrapins tailback from inside the 5-yard line. Three tackles by Bradley, the last the biggest, on fourth-and-goal from the 1, the tailback, Anthony McFarland, dropped for a loss.
A tough tailback, by the way. McFarland had 123 yards this day. You may see him play on Sundays.
That stand wasn’t the last stand, as it turned out. Temple’s D had to do it again after a shanked punt. Maryland started from Temple’s 10-yard line after the punt. Yet the Terps got no closer to the end zone.
Stats aside, this was about as good a performance as a defense can put up. It was as good a performance as Temple’s defense has had in recent seasons -- even before those last stands.
Putting on a historian’s cap, it may have been the best Owls defensive performance since Temple beat Penn State in this stadium in 2015.
How many times could the defense cover for Temple’s special-teams issues? We don’t know, maybe an infinite number of times. It just kept happening until the final score was Temple 20-17. The 17 was rung up in weird numeric fashion, with two safeties, including on the last play when Temple understood that was the right move to finish things off.
Against a team that came in averaging 71 points a game through its first two. Could Maryland score 63 against Temple like the Terps had last weekend against Syracuse?
“We’re not having that,’’ said Temple defensive tackle Ifeanyi Maijeh, who had a day for himself up front, with three tackles for losses, including two sacks.
At halftime, Maryland had just a pair of points, on an early safety after a punt snap skipped past the punter out of the back of the end zone.
A Temple loss would absolutely have been a special-teams loss, since there was also an offside call on the opening kickoff, then a kick out of bounds, and a punt return that turned into a fumble after the punt hit a Temple blocker before it got to the punt returner. You want more? There was a 34-yard missed field goal. A surprising decision to go for two on a conversion after a third-quarter score, so much game left to play and the math questionable. There was a holding call on a kickoff, a Maryland punt return for 55 yards.
That last one set up the Bradley heroics.
Owls coach Rod Carey was asked about all the interesting special-teams plays.
“They were bad,’’ Carey said.
The offense wasn’t great but good enough. This day was all about the defense.
“It’s fantastic,’’ Carey said of beating a team that came in ranked 21st in the country. “But it doesn’t count for 1½ wins.”
Asked about how his defense dealt with the pressure, Carey said, “I don’t think it’s dealing with pressure. I think it’s loving the moment.”
It wasn’t just those final stands. Go back just a bit earlier. Maryland’s quarterback Josh Jackson had faked a handoff and, whatever the intended play call, Jackson was left to his own devices. A Temple linebacker couldn’t quite get the angle on him, but an Owls defensive end was next up and slammed him.
Next play, the same defensive end, Quincy Roche, made Jackson change directions and get a pass off quickly and ineffectively. All that was crucial since Temple had just taken back the lead in the fourth quarter.
“I think we’re one of the best defenses in the country,’’ Owls QB Anthony Russo said afterward. “I’m standing by that, no matter what.”
This game, Bradley thought, goes to “number one” on Temple performances since he’s been on the field the last few seasons.
“There was a lot of hype around this game,’’ Bradley said after his team moved to 2-0. “I don’t talk too much on Twitter and all that stuff but I see it. All this, Maryland is going to do this. How is Temple going to stop this? There was a lot of hype around it. It was a fun game, too. You watch the game, it was non-stop, close the whole game.”
As a team defensive performance, Bradley also put it on top -- “that’s the best I’ve seen us fly around and play all together as a unit.”
The gap on his big backfield stop for a 3-yard loss was created by the line in front of him, Bradley pointed out. Most of the day, Temple didn’t have to do a lot of blitzing. The line usually dominated.
“That’s his gap,’’ Carey said later of Bradley’s highlight play, adding how what everyone saw next was Bradley’s “God-given ability. That was his gap. He took it.”