Let’s face it, coach Matt Rhule’s crew has been pulling some serious smoke-and-mirrors acts this fall en route to starting a school-record 7-0, and this latest one may have been the greatest caper of all – which is really saying something for anyone who can remember the 25-23 Houdini deal at Massachusetts a month ago. Reason, most of all, being the Pirates are pretty damn good. Down 14-10 and looking lifeless, if not disinterested after previously wasting two ECU turnovers created by the defense, the Owls’ offense took over at its own 29 with 5:55 remaining. After an incomplete pass, Temple got hit with a personal foul, pushing the ball back to its own 15. Then, as if some magic dust was sprinkled in the huddle, the Owls came alive, QB P.J. Walker and WR Robby Anderson hooking up on a 51-yard pass play to ignite a TD drive that culminated with them pairing again on the go-ahead, game-winning scoring strike of 23 yards. Thing is, the way things had gone throughout the night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C., you hardly felt secure with that 17-14 lead, especially with ECU having 3:31 left to either tie it or win it. But the Owls’ D forced a punt, and then their special teams blocked it, which gave Temple the ball at the ECU 15 and set the stage for RB Jahad Thomas’ 14-yard game-sealing TD run. Just hard to believe. Third game this season the Owls had to rally in the fourth quarter to win, this time coming just five days after the previous time.
2. Speedster steps up just in time
Anderson couldn’t have picked a better time to finally strut his stuff. Ever since he returned to the team following last season’s absence, Owls fans have been waiting for him to bust out and show the type of game-breaking qualities he displayed back in 2013. But, really, that hadn’t happened. Until Saturday night … and that was HUGE. Without his three-catch, 79-yard effort on that game-winning drive, obviously Temple doesn’t survive this one. But, frankly, he was a threat throughout the contest as the Owls repeatedly tried to stretch and soften the ECU defense. Though they didn’t succeed much with that, Anderson did rack up five other catches for 49 yards before that fateful drive to help Temple remain within striking distance throughout. Coming off a game against Central Florida in which his most memorable act was fumbling away a punt, Anderson was big here. It was about time.
3. QB comes through in clutch ... again
Walker has his detractors out there, and much of what they say may have merit. But the kid has some pretty sick athletic skills and this season is showing a knack for doing whatever it takes to win. In this one, he went 19-for-35 through the air for 250 yards, deftly dropping in that game-winning 23-yarder to Anderson with 3:31 to go. Having taken a back seat while his former Elizabeth (N.J.) High School teammate, Thomas, assumed the lead role in Rhule’s run-dominant offense, Walker has picked his spots this fall, and for the most part, picked them well. He was the savior up in New England last month, salvaging a 25-23 victory from the jaws of defeat vs. UMass, tossing for a career-best 391 yards and directing the game-winning drive, and in this one he merely posted his best production since that effort and was money down the stretch, connecting on five of his last six passing attempts on the go-ahead, game-winning drive, good for 88 yards and a TD ... overcoming not only a 3-yard loss on a run by Thomas in the process, but a 14-yard penalty, too.
4. Mistakes and missed opportunities abound
It seems the dropped passes and penalties disease must be spreading at Lincoln Financial Field, as so much of the booboos permeating through Philadelphia’s pro football outfit seem to have spread over to its collegiate neighbor. Couldn’t even keep track of all the drops, including by Anderson, but the penalties totaled 12 for 112 yards. That’s a recipe for disaster if it continues the rest of the season, and it’s just bad football besides. The O-line was atrocious with false starts and holds, with sub Brian Carter actually getting flagged for one of each on back-to-back plays. The fact Temple failed to do anything with two ECU turnovers, including one Keystone Kops possession that yielded minus-8 yards after taking over at the host Pirates’ 27 and a missed field goal. Yuk. Fortunately, ECU couldn’t do anything against Temple’s D in the second half, and, finally, mercifully, the Owls’ O put some points on the board in the final three minutes and change to salvage this incredibly unlikely unbeaten run.
5. Tyler Matakevich ... 'nuff said
Hmmm, 13 tackles, a sack and an interception against ECU. At this point you have to wonder if the national shunning that has surrounded the country’s best LB the last three years running may be discarded and burned entirely, to be replaced with multiple defensive player of the year awards for this season. T-Mat is that good. Has been that good for a long time. A tackling machine since first taking the field for Temple, he keeps adding to his repertoire each season. At this point, he is a dynamic, big-play guy, capable of changing the course of a game with a sack (he has four on the season) or a pick (he has four of those, too, this season). With five regular-season games remaining, T-Mat, with 422 career stops, may have a hard time breaking the Temple standard of 492 tackles set by Steve Conjar, but, barring injury, he will become the seventh FBS-level defender to record 100 tackles or more for four season and the argument for him being the best defender in Owls’ history is quite legit.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org