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Hard questions pop up after Temple’s UCF disaster | Mike Jensen

"We are too good of a team to have games like this,” said Temple quarterback Anthony Russo.

Richie Grant, bottom, of Central Florida upends Todd Centeio of Temple during the 1st half at Lincoln Financial Field on Oct. 26, 2019.
Richie Grant, bottom, of Central Florida upends Todd Centeio of Temple during the 1st half at Lincoln Financial Field on Oct. 26, 2019.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

When you hear it’s time for players-only meetings, any sport, does that ever suggest good things are going on?

Temple quarterback Anthony Russo, standup guy, stood outside the Owls locker room at the Linc late Saturday night and said that’s what needs to happen after Temple’s 63-21 debacle against Central Florida.

“We will do that this week, maybe even tomorrow,’’ Russo said. “We are a player-led team and we’ve got some great leaders on this team and we are going to get down to the bottom of this and figure out what we need to do and what we need to change, because we are too good of a team to have games like this.”

Saturday night, we heard from Temple players and from head coach Rod Carey, about how they’d basically hunker down and get to work and fix things.

If it were that simple, then Saturday night never would have happened. A one-score game at halftime would not have turned into a five-score game by the end of the third quarter.

A 45-21 loss at SMU last week would not have turned into a 63-21 home loss on Saturday.

Did the Owls let down out there? There’s never any answer to that. But the damning question pops up. UCF was simply faster than Temple, all over the field. The Owls had no room to operate. UCF had no choice but to pick up massive amounts of yards.

It wasn’t just the speed. Or at least that speed caused the kind of pressure that results in mistakes. That third quarter represented bad old days Temple football.

A 10-yard reception converts into a 73-yard UCF score when a Temple safety misses a tackle. The Owls didn’t pick up a first down in the third quarter until their fifth series of the period, until the score had gotten away to 56-21. That first down meant nothing. Next play, false start. Next play, interception.

In the middle of it, UCF had a two-and-done, except the second play was a 34-yard scoring run, after UCF’s defense had pinned Temple back to the 6-yard line and the Golden Knights started with a short field.

Enough gory details. (One more: a roughing-the-kicker penalty that replaced a fourth-quarter field goal with a touchdown.) Yes, Temple was missing injured players at very key spots, stars at center and safety most of all. But where do you find a completely healthy team at the end of October?

So in retrospect it was wrong, very wrong, to think that this Temple team could do special things this season. It wasn’t wrong to think that this group was “pretty good” back in September, that the Owls had a base competence and its share of resilience. That’s all past tense at the moment.

You lose 45-21 and it’s time to show you’re better than that. Then you lose 63-21, so you’re not better than that.

All phases of the game, Rod Carey said after this one, talking about breakdowns. That part, yes.

It’s fixable, he said.

That part, well, that takes some belief.

It’s entirely possible after a game like that to go too far, to reference some bad old days. Carey may not care, but he should understand, those of us who’ve been here a while, we’ve seen some things we’d rather not talk about. He’s paid a nice salary to keep people away from those memories.

These aren’t, in fact, the bad old days. Temple never went into a game 5-2 in the bad old days, didn’t beat two ranked teams (even if those rankings turned out to be off.)

Temple now seems headed for some fairly irrelevant bowl, the season playing out without big-time stakes, unless it all changes on a dime and the rest of the American Athletic Conference cooperates, big-time. (Again, not the bad old days. The Owls have raised the stakes, adding to this letdown.)

Ballplayers like to say that it’s not about what the outside world thinks. Temple players certainly say that sort of thing. This time, they happen to be right. The Owls think the outside world no longer believes in them. Obviously, that’s right.

A Temple lifer walked by after the game, said we’re all about to find out about this group, whether they can bounce back or whether they stay down after they’ve been knocked down.

Fair enough. At least the lifers will notice.