MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Matt Rhule and his Temple football players came out of the locker room late Thursday evening disappointed, frustrated and perplexed.

Temple has suffered defeats in different ways this year, but before 34,743 at Liberty Bowl Stadium, the Owls lost a game after losing their composure.

And that certainly cost Temple in a 34-27 American Athletic Conference loss to Memphis.

Temple is 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the AAC and while the Owls talked afterward about still contending for a division title, becoming bowl eligible may be a more realistic goal.

Memphis (4-1, 1-0) scored 27 straight points, beginning the run late in the first half with a field goal and extending past the midway point of the fourth quarter.

A 13-0 Temple lead became a 27-13 deficit on a 28-yard run by Darrell Henderson with 8 minutes and 14 seconds left.

And just when the Owls looked buried, they showed fight, the same way they did against Penn State, which also beat the Owls by the identical 34-27 score.

After Temple scored on a 61-yard pass from Phillip Walker to Jahad Thomas with 6:47 left to get within 27-20, Memphis immediately scored on a 95-yard kickoff return by Tony Pollard.

"I hurt for these kids here," Rhule said. "To do the things down the stretch, just to give up those plays in the fourth quarter was really disheartening to me."

This game was awfully similar to the Penn State game, minus the early dominance by Temple. Against Penn State, Temple was down by two touchdowns at halftime, got to within 27-24 with 8:10 left and then gave up a backbreaking 55-yard touchdown run to Saquon Barkley.

Similarly, Temple gave up big plays beginning with a 71-yard run by explosive Doroland Dorceus that tied the score at 13-13 and got the Tigers rolling.

People keep judging Temple on last year's 10-4 team and it's becoming increasingly clear that this isn't a fair comparison. Last year's team was more experienced, talented and much less banged up than this current group.

As the Owls shuttled out of their locker room to board the team bus to the airport, there was almost a stunned looked to the players.

How can a team be so dominant one half and fall apart for a long stretch in the second half?

There really weren't any suitable answers.

"[Memphis] came back out in the second half and were ready to play and they had a dominant effort and got back into the game," said defensive lineman Haason Reddick, who was spectacular in defeat with 11 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks.

Maybe Temple had a false sense of security after its impressive first half. What has to be disconcerting for Rhule is that all three phases of the game let down, although the offense had its moments.

Walker completed 36 of 59 passes for 445 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Teams rarely win when throwing the ball nearly 60 times.

For the second week in a row, the Owls allowed a pick-6 interception.

And for the first time in nearly 20 years, Memphis returned a kickoff for a touchdown.

That's right, the last kickoff return for a score came in November of 1996 before Pollard took it to the house to increase the lead to 34-20 with 6:35 left.

The Owls allowed 10 rushing yards in the first half and then Memphis scored two touchdown runs in the second half that totaled 99 yards.

"We have to see what we did wrong and go out and try to improve it," Walker said.

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard