He was facing the team with the longest winning streak in the country, and Temple quarterback Anthony Russo was showing the crowd at Orlando's Spectrum Stadium — and a national TV audience — his big arm, leadership ability, and competitive fire.
The Owls eventually lost last week's game, 52-40, in an American Athletic Conference showdown with Central Florida, giving the Knights their 21st consecutive win. But Temple's 6-foot-4, 230-pound gunslinger, a redshirt sophomore from Archbishop Wood, relished pushing the home team to the limit.
"It was pretty cool, and we fully expected for it to be like that," Russo said this week after practice. "We expected to be neck-and-neck with them the entire game."
He added, "We felt we were just as good as them, and we knew it was going to be a shootout. We wanted to stay focused and continue what we were doing, putting points on the board."
Russo said it disappointing to lose, but he could appreciate competing in front of a hyped-up crowd of 41,153 and the ESPN audience. And plenty saw his performance. According to an ESPN spokesman, the game attracted an average of 1,191,000 viewers, the third-best viewership for a Thursday night football game this year.
Keep in mind that Temple-UCF went up against the NFL's Thursday night matchup on Fox, although that was a miserable game, with the San Francisco 49ers pummeling the beleaguered Oakland Raiders, 34-3.
Russo said he had received many texts from people who watched the game. They got to see him in his best game of seven starts.
"I think it was good for us to perform at that level, too, on that big of a stage," Russo said. "It kind of showed the world that we have always been known as a defensive team here, but I think being able to perform the way we did on offense opened up the eyes of a lot of people … ."
Russo completed 31 of 52 passes for 444 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions (one on the Owl's last play, with 45 seconds left, when the game had been decided). He became just the third Temple quarterback to pass for 400 yards in a game.
Russo also ran for a 5-yard touchdown on a fake field goal.
"Just the confidence he was showing" was impressive, Temple coach Geoff Collins said. "He was dropping some dimes in there."
This season. Russo has completed 57.2 percent of his passes for 1,854 yards and 13 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions.
Temple (5-4, 4-1) will visit Houston (7-2, 4-1) on Saturday and face a Cougars defense that is coming off a 45-31 loss at SMU. So, this could be another big game for Russo and the Temple offense.