When the big play of the day, the one that really puts you over the top, is a football sitting all by its lonesome on the Lincoln Financial Field turf, there to be picked up by the first player who can get to it … well, ain’t that 2020 right there?
No rhyme, little reason, no clear idea how Temple vs. South Florida Saturday at the Linc would ultimately play out … until a USF botched handoff, and the Owls finally had themselves a 2020 break.
"Back and forth. To get some mojo on our side, I think, was big,'' Temple quarterback Anthony Russo said of that play.
"This team hangs in there,'' Owls coach Rod Carey said later. “They don’t flinch.”
This afternoon got crazy, and Temple did not, in fact, flinch. Final score: Temple 39, South Florida 37. Had it all the way, if stopping a two-point conversion with a minute left means you’ve got it throughout.
If the guy who made the big defensive play of the day was the same guy who earlier lost a kickoff in the sun … well, 2020.
Russo called the atmosphere “super different” without fans other than family members, more like this was a practice. You had to feed off each other’s energy, Russo said. Which exactly makes a second-half comeback all the more impressive.
Even if you’re inclined to put an asterisk on Temple’s opening loss last week at Navy … differing prep times, and preparing for Navy’s triple option as a one-off not to be repeated. Fine, do it.
This week, though, the home opener was about as must-win as it got if Temple planned to be any kind of factor in the American Athletic Conference. South Florida had gotten hammered at home by East Carolina, came in 1-3.
USF’s offense looked way better than whatever that record said it was, a tough QB to contain, an elusive little running back. No walk-through.
"They figured some things out offensively just in time to play us,'' Carey said.
At halftime, even deep into the second half, it looked like continued special-teams woes might be the story of this one. A blocked field goal and some big USF kick returns, and that pooched kick lost in the sun don’t actually have much in common other than falling under the umbrella of special teams. But they were all going against Temple.
Even the math involved in going for two points looked like it could work against Temple, and maybe the failure to convert would have been crucial in other circumstances. But missing two conversions still left Temple with a one-point lead at the end, and it was USF’s final do-or-die conversion that was deficient, snuffed out by the Owls.
Also, if you’re going to mark up the whole ledger, a deep Owls punt, touched down inside USF’s 5-yard line, was as big as any other special-teams play in the game.
The biggest play, though, was a gift of sorts, a botched read-option handoff by South Florida’s quarterback, Jordan McCloud, scooped up by Temple defensive end Arnold Ebiketie for a 2020-style 32-31 lead, just under 10 minutes left.
Here’s the thing about that gift, though. It wasn’t wrapped up neatly for the taking. Ebiketie, who had a dominant afternoon, forced the issue, bearing down on the handoff, forcing the action, forcing the botch.
"It was a zone read. The quarterback is supposed to read me,'' Ebiketie said later. “He tried to pull the ball at the last second. That’s why the confusion happened.”