There were no excuses coming in, no whining to be heard from the vicinity of 10th and Diamond. Who’d have listened?
Facts, however, are facts: Temple hadn’t played a game before Saturday night, a victim of COVID-19 pandemic scheduling and Philadelphia public health guidelines.
You heard about how maybe it’s an advantage that there was no game film for Navy to look at to prepare for the Owls.
Not being snarky at all. It wasn’t fair in the sense of creating an even playing field. We know, we know. Nothing about 2020 is fair. That’s the nature of this pandemic. Well, for at least the first half at Navy, Temple was losing to the Midshipmen and losing to 2020.
Think about it. Navy had already played three games. The Owls began fully 11-on-11 practicing basically the same week Navy began actually playing games.
This one wound up exciting. In the end, it came down to whether Temple could convert a two-point conversion, probably send it to overtime. Nope. Navy was all over a pass to the tailback. Weird call, after a whole bunch of fine play calls.
Midshipmen 31, Owls 29. Final.
Going in, you thought maybe Temple could out-talent Navy, which had lost big to BYU and Air Force and slipped in a tight comeback win over Tulane in between. But the difference in talent wasn’t baked in going into this season. Temple was picked eighth in the American Athletic Conference by the media in the preseason, while Navy was tabbed for fifth.
Temple only returning a few defensive starters looked like a very big deal, indeed, as Navy’s triple option had all options working from the opening drive, taking it to Temple’s defense, taking way over half the first quarter to do it. No passes, of course.
“Our pad level was just too high,” Temple coach Rod Carey said afterward. “It was a real simple thing. It wasn’t an X and O thing … When you’re pad level is three inches high, against that type of team, you’re going backwards. This was a technique and fundamental thing.”
Every time Navy tried a fourth down to convert, the Midshipmen converted. Each a killer. When Temple made a big fourth-quarter stand, Navy came up with a 50-yard field goal.
Temple quarterback Anthony Russo both looked sharp and showed echoes of last season’s Owls red-zone problems. Russo helped his team for most of the half, then really hurt them just before halftime, throwing a red-zone interception that let Navy get into the locker room with a 21-10 lead.
Meanwhile, Navy seemed to understand this season — the non-Army-Navy game portion anyway — couldn’t be a success without success on this night. On fourth-and-6 at midfield, Navy tried to draw Temple off sides. When that didn’t happen and a timeout was called, you expected a punt. Nope, the Midshipmen went for it, got it, scored again.
Even on special teams, Navy looked sharper, more explosive. Another season of special-teams issues would not be helpful for Temple.
Temple has a terrific young running back and some big-time receivers and a QB who can get the ball to them. We saw that a halftime deficit didn’t mean this was done. But it gets late early against Navy, with all the clock they run off. You need to match their precision.
As the third quarter began, could Temple’s defense finally get a stop? Yes, it could. Three-and-out. Could Temple get down the field and get back in the game. Yes, and yes.
So the momentum had finally turned Temple’s way? The Owls had shaken off their opening-game issues? Not so fast. Navy put on another impressive drive, scoring again, running off most of the third-quarter clock.
Worse still, you saw a Temple single-digit defender lose a grip on a Navy fullback. Those single digits represent Temple Tuff, by team definition. The single-digit defenders weren’t making big plays.
Navy got embarrassed by Air Force a week ago, and wanted to make Temple pay for that embarrassment.
We’ll find out soon enough if Temple’s defense, not nearly good enough in Week 1, can pull off a similar feat in the weeks ahead. Their AAC life depends on it.
"I will not use it as an excuse," Carey said of the late-season start. “Are we where we would have been if COVID hadn’t hit? No. But nobody is.”