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Temple’s red-zone struggles, starting with the quarterback, need to be fixed | Marc Narducci

The Owls' narrow loss at Navy last week hinged largely on two mistakes in the red zone, an interception and failed 2-point conversion.

Temple quarterback Anthony Russo scores on one of his two touchdown runs against Navy.
Temple quarterback Anthony Russo scores on one of his two touchdown runs against Navy.Read moreGail Burton / AP

In Temple’s opening 31-29 loss at Navy on Saturday, quarterback Anthony Russo stood tall in the pocket, but taller after the game ended.

That’s when Russo took accountability for some key mistakes.

Even though coach Rod Carey took the blame for what could have been a tying two-point conversion play with 1 minute, 2 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Russo said the incomplete pass to well-covered running back Re’Mahn Davis that was batted away was on him.

Carey said it was his play call and a bad one at that, but Russo argued that it was his job to execute the play. In retrospect, instead of making that pass, he felt he could have bought some time and looked for another receiver.

Russo also said that the red-zone interception he threw late in the first half was all on him.

“I knew right away after I threw it, that it was a bad throw and a bad decision, but I can promise you, I won’t make that same mistake twice this year,” Russo said after the game.

Carey said he was encouraged by the way Russo rebounded after the interception, when the Owls outscored Navy, 19-10, in the second half.

“How he responded from that was completely different than he’s ever responded from a play like that,” Carey said Monday. “And that is improvement. Before, if Russo made a critical error like that, you would see it affect him for the rest of the game or at least a certain amount of time. It did not this game. He came right back down and we got three touchdowns in the second half.”

Russo agreed Tuesday with his coach about being able to shrug off such a tough play and move on.

“My interceptions in recent years, whenever there was one, there’s simply a second one not too far behind and that’s because I was getting in my own head and letting it affect me and not just playing the next play,” he said.

» READ MORE: Returning to football was a breeze compared to the offseason job for Temple QB Anthony Russo

Russo said he worked on that mental aspect of the game in the offseason.

Lost in those two plays was the fact that Russo performed effectively. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 206 yards with one touchdown and the one interception. Russo also scored touchdowns on runs of 1 and 9 yards, matching his rushing TD total of all last season.

Yet despite all the positives, for Russo to make the next step and for Temple to do so as well, red zone efficiency has to improve.

Last season, Temple was 116th out of 130 Football Bowl Championship teams in red zone efficiency.

Russo is 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, and has a strong arm, an NFL arm if you want to be honest, but it takes more than an arm to win. He said he often makes mistakes because he attempts to throw the ball into tight spaces. That is what happened on the interception, as he fired toward Jadan Blue in the end zone and didn’t see Navy’s John Marshall, who made the pick.

All quarterbacks are going to make bad plays, and Russo, a third-year starter, handles these mistakes because it can’t be easy talking to the media about them with such class. Yet for the senior, to take the next step as a quarterback and for Temple to do the same as a team, these painful red-zone discussions will have to cease.

The pick

There is no reason with the talent in the Sunshine State that South Florida should be a struggling program, and in time the Bulls should be back. But now is not the time. This is one of the weaker teams in the AAC, one whose only win is over the Citadel in their opener. Temple’s defense, which was pushed around at times against Navy, has to make a comeback against a more conventional offense. If Temple wants to enjoy any degree of success this year, the Owls must win this one.

Prediction: Temple 31, South Florida 17