Last year, Temple was the only American Athletic Conference team to beat eventual champion Memphis.
The Owls entered the Liberty Bowl on Saturday with great confidence, only enhanced by their 15-10 halftime lead. While the first half was a defensive struggle, the second belonged to the Memphis offense, which earned a 41-29 victory.
Here are observations from the game.
This one doesn’t take much analysis. Temple was hurt greatly by turnovers. Anthony Russo threw three interceptions, and Re’Mahn Davis also lost a fumble. Memphis also had first-half fumbles, but it didn’t cost the Tigers the way Temple’s miscues did. Memphis scored 24 points off turnovers, while Temple scored just three.
In the first half, Temple defensive tackle Ifeanyi Maijeh played the way he did last year for the first time this season. An all-conference performer, Maijeh was blowing up plays, and getting a push up the middle on his pass rush. In the first half, when Temple took a 15-10 lead, the defensive line soundly outplayed Memphis' offensive line, and Maijeh was the leader. Maijeh didn’t have the same impact in the second half .
Trailing, 15-10, and taking over the ball on its own 35 with just 31 seconds left in the first half, Memphis quarterback Brady White overthrew Tahj Washington, who was wide open deep. The next play, White went deep again, and Calvin Austin III got open and dropped what would have been a likely touchdown pass. It was that kind of half for the Tigers.
Temple had great success in the half throwing short and watching players gain big chunks of yards after the catch. Whether it was running back Re’Mahn Davis on the screens, or receivers Randle Jones and Jadan Blue on either screens or short passes right off the line, Memphis had trouble defending the short pass.
Memphis couldn’t handle Temple receivers one-on-one. Branden Mack scored on a 10-yard second-quarter pass from Anthony Russo that was an example of the struggles. With single coverage, Mack despite a limited area, got wide open on an inside move and scored easily scored.
Similarly, Jadan Blue is difficult to defend with just single coverage. Blue’s 5-yard touchdown in the second quarter came against single coverage. Russo hit Blue on a fade after the Temple receiver had turned around his defender. Russo threw the pass where only Blue could get it, to the outside, for the score.
On Blue’s third touchdown reception, he caught the pass near the line of scrimmage and used his open-field skills to score an 8-yard touchdown.
Besides being strong as a cornerback, Temple’s Christian Braswell is a key special teams performer. On the opening kickoff in the third quarter, Memphis' explosive Tahj Washington looked like he had broken through up the middle. But Braswell made what could have been a touchdown saving tackle, and the Tigers had to begin on their own 29-yard line.
Russo threw a first-half interception when Mack slipped on an out pattern. The second interception in the third quarter, by Rodney Owens, wasn’t a good play by Russo. He was going to Blue deep and overthrew him, with Owens making the easy interception. Two plays later, Memphis regained the lead when White connected on a 65-yard catch-and-run to Calvin Austin.
The third interception came when Russo underthrew Blue, and Owens made his second pick of the third quarter on the tip.
Memphis defensive tackle O’Bryan Goodson (6-fooot-1, 297 pounds) was constantly making big plays. In addition to tying up blockers, he made a key fumble recovery in the third quarter that led to a Memphis touchdown.
Temple had to go for the first down on a 4th-and-8 from the Memphis 37 late in the third quarter, with the Owls down, 27-15. What showed great confidence was that Temple went deep on the play, and Jose Barbon got open. Even though the ball was underthrown, Memphis' John Broussard was called for pass interference. That gave the Owls a first down on a drive on which they would eventually score.