ORLANDO, Fla. — With a bye last week, Temple had plenty of time to watch Central Florida's fleet football team on tape.
Dealing with the Knights in person was something different.
While No. 9 UCF has been criticized for its schedule and the fact that it didn't have a victory over a team with a current winning record, there is a reason the Knights have won 21 in a row: Their offense operates fast and scores faster.
Temple put up a valiant performance during Thursday's nationally televised 52-40 road loss to UCF.
The Owls led, 34-28, at halftime, and got to within 42-40 when quarterback Anthony Russo connected with wideout Ventell Bryant on an 8-yard touchdown pass with 9 minutes and 44 seconds left. The Owls' Jager Gardner was stopped just short of the end zone after catching a pass from Russo on the two-point conversion attempt.
This was against a UCF defense that entered the game allowing just 18.1 points per game.
After seeing the lead dwindle, UCF put the game away by scoring the final 10 points.
While Temple's defense picked an inopportune time to have its worst game of the season, it came against a team that was fifth in the nation in scoring, averaging 44.4 points.
It's not as if Temple hasn't seen this show before. Just last year, UCF came to Lincoln Financial Field and beat the Owls, 45-19.
"When you watch them on film, it happens to every team they play against, they get the defense on their heels," Temple safety Delvon Randall said. "They are going to make a play and they are very good and have athletic players on their offense."
It's funny that Heisman candidate McKenzie Milton threw for 312 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception, and he didn't appear overly dominant, even though he was superb. The fact that the Knights rushed for 318 yards showed great balance while keeping the Owls off balance.
Unlike last year's game, this one was so different, highly competitive, and it showed the Temple offense at its best.
Russo had his finest game, completing 31 of 52 passes for 444 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions. One of the interceptions came on the Owls' final offensive play, when the game was basically over, with just 45 seconds remaining.
Russo showed his strong arm, and great touch, especially when he hit Randle Jones in stride on a 70-yard score.
Despite UCF's defensive struggles, the Knights put plenty of heat on Russo, who was sacked three times and it would have been worse, but Russo showed great pocket presence. He was able to step up, feel the rush, and scramble for some big runs. He rushed for 46 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown on a fake field-goal attempt.
"He played a really good game, threw for over 400 yards, I think he has a school record [directing the Owls to 670 yards of total offense]," Temple coach Geoff Collins said. "When the offense is doing a job like that, I have to do a better job with the defense, making sure we are getting stops when we need them."
While highly disappointed at the loss, Russo knew deep down that the offense played its best game of the season, especially considering the opponent.
"I think it speaks volumes about us," Russo said.
The Owls (5-4) are 4-1 in the AAC and likely don't have much of a chance to win the division, with UCF (8-0, 5-0) owning the first tiebreaker thanks to the head-to-head win.
Temple isn't into moral victories, but the offense came out of this with greater confidence. And the defense can't hang its collective heads too long, because the offense of Houston, which Temple faces next week on the road, is averaging more points per game (49.8) than the one that just made it look effortless to put up more half a hundred on the Owls.