Five takeaways from Temple's 24-17 OT win over Cincinnati on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field:
At times it can get annoying hearing the players and coaching staff talk about being "Temple tough," but it showed during Saturday's wild 24-17 overtime win over previously unbeaten and then-No. 20-ranked Cincinnati. For long stretches, one wondered how Temple would even get a first down, let alone score a touchdown. The Owls were stuck in offensive inefficiency for so long, with just 128 total yards through three quarters. With three interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter, Temple appeared to be giving away the game.
Yet the defense wouldn't budge until the offense found its rhythm. In no game this season has Temple shown such mental toughness, hanging in against a Cincinnati team that entered the contest third nationally in scoring defense, allowing 13.7 points per game.
So between now and when the Owls visit Central Florida on Nov. 1 for an American Athletic Conference first-place showdown — and who would have thought that after Temple's 0-2 start? — we will probably hear "Temple tough" frequently. The term will be deserved for the fortitude the Owls showed in a game that, for the longest stretches, they had no business winning.
All week leading to the game, Temple was saying that the key in defending dual-threat Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder was to keep him in the pocket. That meant not over-pursuing plays and treading the fine line of putting heat on the 6-foot-4, 212-pound redshirt freshman, but not allowing him to get to the outside.
The game plan worked perfectly as Ridder had 16 rushing attempts for just 9 yards. He was also sacked four times (a play that was originally credited as a tackle for loss was changed to a a sack by Zack Mesday). Ridder also completed just 14 of 33 passes for 111 yards and an interception, the game-sealer by Shaun Bradley. Yes, the Owls had trouble with running backs Michael Warren and Charles McClelland, who combined for 192 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries, but limiting Ridder was essential and other than one 12-yard gain, he wasn't the explosive runner that he was in previous games.
In Temple's two biggest wins of the year, defensive tackle Michael Dogbe has had his two most impressive performances. Dogbe's best game was in Temple's 35-14 win over Maryland, when the Owls defense didn't allow a point. He earned AAC defensive-player-of-the-week honors after recording seven tackles, including 3 1/2 for losses and 2 1/2 sacks, and also forcing two fumbles. Against Cincinnati, he had four tackles, including 1 1/2 sacks. He also forced a fumble that was recovered by teammate Jimmy Hogan and led to Temple's opening field goal. On the game-ending overtime interception, Dogbe, on a three-man rush, put pressure on Ridder and actually hit him before he stepped up in the pocket and threw the pick.
The Maryland and Cincinnati wins were the two most important of the season. If the Owls, 0-2 at the time, had lost to Maryland, their season could have continued to spiral downward. A loss to Cincinnati would have had Temple (5-3, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) fretting about being bowl eligible. Dogbe led the defensive effort in both wins, an indication of his immense contribution to the defense.
The Owls are 5-1 with Anthony Russo as the starting quarterback, and the redshirt sophomore has done a tremendous job in leading this team. Yet for Russo and Temple's offense to get to a consistent level, he will have to limit interceptions. Russo threw three in Saturday's win — Cincinnati appeared to have the best secondary that Temple has faced this season — and the Owls were fortunate to withstand the turnovers.
Russo's best trait is the ability to forget about a bad play and move on. Against Cincinnati, he had to do that too many times. He was great in leading Temple to its game-tying, seven-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in Branden Mack's 20-yard TD reception with 49 seconds left in regulation. And Russo hit Isaiah Wright in stride for the 25-yard TD hookup in overtime. But he has to curtail the careless throws that result in interceptions.
This season, he has 10 interceptions and nine touchdown passes, not the ratio that would suggest winning five of six as a starter. Before this season, he had never thrown a pass in a college game, so he is still developing, and the next stage will be to cut down the interceptions.
Temple junior receiver Randle Jones has made the most of his increased opportunities. He entered this season with 11 career receptions, all achieved last year, and no TDs. Now, Jones has worked his way into a deep receiver rotation. Saturday was his best game, with five receptions for 67 yards (both career highs) and a touchdown. On Temple's game-tying drive, he had a 29-yard reception that gave the Owls a first down on the Cincinnati 38.