When most see the score from Friday night, even if they watched the game, they’ll think “blowout,” that this game was never in doubt, that the Owls could have called the score. All untrue. All what should have been the case, yes, when a ranked team with one of the nation’s top statistical defenses plays such a dud, but untrue with what really went down. No, in short, this was another example of this team knowing just what it takes to win a specific game and doing just that, nothing more. That’s a style of play that yours truly, in general, can never really get behind when it is so nerve-wracking and mind-numbing existent each week. Yes, Temple started somewhat strong, scoring twice on its first three possessions. But it squandered a 14-0 lead, fell behind and then had to make sure it matched TD for TD after regaining the lead because it couldn’t distance itself from a one-win team until Sean Chandler’s pick-six final shut the door. With 8:02 remaining in the game, the difference was just 45-40 after Braeden West returned a kickoff for the Mustangs following a safety the Owls surrendered due to a holding penalty.
2. Still ...
Temple avoided being taken down by a letdown. Less than a week after enduring their first loss of the season, the Owls found a way to survive on the road. They didn’t play great, but they did enough to win and move another step closer to a berth in the inaugural American Athletic Conference title game and a bid to a quality bowl. These are unchartered waters for the Temple program, and, frankly, even as the mind behind this type-written mess picks apart its game-day imperfections, you can’t dismiss what is going on here. Now 8-1, still ranked and unbeaten in the AAC, the 2015 Owls are setting a standard, if not a foundation, for every edition of Owls who follow. It’s a pretty impressive thing, and, frankly, a lesser team, with a lesser head coach, probably wouldn’t have been able to overcome the hangover from last week’s gut-wrenching, 24-20 loss to Notre Dame to hold off SMU’s potent offense. Furthermore, if any Owls fan (me included) is truly perturbed by the closeness of the final score in this one, he/she would be wise to keep in mind that SMU dropped its third game of the season to then-No. 3 TCU, 56-37 and was only down 42-37 with 8:20 remaining in that one.
3. Positives ... there were a few
For me, chief among them was seeing QB P.J. Walker actually given a chance to strut his stuff a little bit and not disappoint. The fact his receiving corps seemed to do a much better job of holding onto the ball was big as well. But this was Walker’s show and he clearly starred, throwing for 268 yards (18-for-25 passing) and four TDs and busting out a 36-yard scoring run late in the fourth. He was dynamic and efficient and likely the closest he’s ever been to what Matt Rhule had hoped his QB would be since making him the starter as a freshman two years ago. Displaying his full arsenal of aerial talent, mixing in touch passes with fastballs, Walker managed to get 10 sets of hands involved in the connection department other than his own in this one, including seldom-utilized Romond Deloatch and Saledeem Major for TDs. He also hooked up with main guys Robby Anderson and Ventell Bryant for the same. The only glaring positive? The fact the ground game could generate 268 yards of its own with bell cow Jahad Thomas limited to backup status and 15 carries due to a rib injury. Freshman Jager Gardner started and ripped off Temple’s longest play ever from scrimmage – a 94-yard TD gallup on the Owls’ second snap.
4. Defense not as far off the rails as it seemed
Yeah, when you’re a top-10 unit for a nationally ranked team, it’s never ideal in perception or reality to get taken to the woodshed for 40 points and close to 400 yards. Here’s the thing, though, nine of those points were directly related to the Owls’ offense (safety, two SMU points) and special teams (touchdown and ensuing PAT, seven SMU points) – so, essentially, Temple allowed the Mustangs to have pretty much around their normal scoring output, which had been 28.8 points per game coming into the contest. In addition, the Owls actually held SMU under its season average of 414 yards per game, surrendering 397 – which, when you factor that the Temple offense surpassed its normal yardage output by almost 200 yards … well, it’s not a bad trade-off. In reality, the Owls did a step off on defense in this one, but some of the credit there should go to the offensive strategy of Mustangs head coach Chad Morris and the multi-faceted talents of his quick-footed QB, Matt Davis, who threw for 167 yards, ran for another 102 and accounted for a pair of TDs.
5. Love the Cherry-White-Cherry
Gotta say, even with those silly diamonds infiltrating every aspect of the Owls’ uniform, they looked super sharp in this one. Obviously, not a fan here of the all-white Storm Trooper getups that have been all the rage for what seems to be an increasingly geekier college football nation as it further morphs a passion for sports with one for Star Wars, but it’s not even about that when it comes to this attire. It’s just clean and eye-catching, and, not for nothing, but the Owls seem to do quite well in them, as evidenced by last year’s opener at Vanderbilt (37-7 Owls win), 2012’s win at Army (the Montel Harris 7-TD game) and 2012’s OT win at UConn (made Owls 2-0 in Big East for first time). They looked so good, apparently, that they shut off the memory banks for stats people there, who put out that the Owls’ scoring output was the most they’d had since 1973. Umm, not really. They scored 63 in that Harris affair along the banks of the Hudson two years ago.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org