At the midway point of this pandemic-shortened season, Temple’s football team appears to be in crisis mode. Depleted by injury and players in COVID-19 protocol, the Owls withered in the second half and lost, 38-3, to Tulane on Saturday in New Orleans.
Now the question is whether Temple (1-3, 1-3 American Athletic Conference) can compete against a tough second-half schedule.
The biggest injury was to quarterback Anthony Russo, who hurt his shoulder in last week’s 41-29 loss at Memphis. Russo had started 17 consecutive games and 26 in his career.
Against Tulane (3-4, 1-4), Temple coach Rod Carey alternated redshirt sophomore quarterbacks Trad Beatty and Re-al Mitchell.
Carey’s plan with the quarterbacks?
“We wanted to see if somebody got hot and stick with them. Nobody got hot,” Carey said.
» READ MORE: Observations from Temple’s 38-3 loss at Tulane
It wasn’t just the quarterbacks. Temple averaged 2.1 yards per carry against a Tulane team that entered the day allowing 35.3 points per game.
The Owls defense allowed 504 total yards, including 284 on the ground, where the Green Wave averaged a healthy 6 yards per carry.
Carey said that Russo wasn’t close to being able to play and that he didn’t know if he would be available when the Owls host SMU next Saturday.
“It’s really a day-to-day pain threshold thing,” Carey said. “It is not a long-term thing, it is a pain thing.”
Even though Russo was listed as a game-time decision, Beatty and Mitchell were told Wednesday that they would both be playing.
The Owls had far more problems on the injury front than just at quarterback. Besides Russo, the other players from the two-deep depth chart who didn’t play because of injury included right guard Adam Klein; linebackers Isaiah Graham-Mobley, Yvandy Rigby, and Audley Isaacs; and tight end Darius Pittman.
Temple also has 13 players in COVID protocol. Players from the two-deep depth chart include: receiver Jose Barbon; cornerback Elijah Clark; tight end David Martin-Robinson; and offensive lineman Wisdom Quarshie.
With all these players missing, the AAC announced Friday that the game with SMU, originally scheduled for Thursday night, would be played Saturday at noon at Lincoln Financial Field.
Temple thought that having the extra days would give the Owls the best chance of playing next week.
Beatty led the Owls to a 22-yard Rory Bell field goal on their first drive, with the big play a 41-yard slant to Branden Mack.
That was the extent of the offensive highlights.
Tulane recorded three sacks and also put plenty of other pressure on both quarterbacks.
“Hats off to them, they did a great job defensively,” said Beatty, who completed 11 of 18 passes for 122 yards and one interception.
Mitchell, a dual-threat transfer from Iowa State, led the Owls in rushing with 37 yards on seven carries. He completed 5 of 8 passes for 28 yards.
“We just missed on some opportunities and didn’t capitalize on some turnovers,” Mitchell said.
The Owls forced three turnovers.
Meanwhile, Tulane freshman Michael Pratt looked like a seasoned pro. He completed 12 of 21 passes for 205 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception and 56 yards rushing (4.7 avg.) and another score.
Temple still trailed just 10-3 when Tulane broke the game open. Pratt hit Duece Watts on a 31-yard scoring pass over the middle with 5 minutes, 35 seconds left in the third quarter. The two then combined on a 5-yard score with 1:36 left in the quarter to extend the lead to 24-3.
With the way Temple’s offense was playing, that was more than enough.
“There was no communication and a lot of people started moving their heads down a little bit,” said Owls cornerback Christian Braswell, who had an interception but was the defender on Watts' two third-quarter touchdown receptions.
If the first half of the season seemed challenging for Temple, three of the Owls’ final four games are against current AAC powers SMU, UCF, and Cincinnati.
Finding cause for optimism won’t be easy in what seems like a season that is slipping away.