By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA- Shaun Bradley had faced this situation one year earlier. The Maryland offense had the ball down in Temple territory and seemed poised to finish off the drive in the end zone. The veteran linebacker picked off the pass and took it 78 yards to the house to close out a dominant victory over the Terrapins on the road.
Fast forward to Saturday with the Owls leading by five points with under three minutes to play and the Terrapins on the doorstep. Facing a fourth down from Temple’s 4-yard line, Maryland went with a bunch formation, which they had run on the previous three plays to running back Anthony McFarland Jr. (132 yards). Bradley recognized the formation and split the gap to take McFarland down behind the line and turn Lincoln Financial Field into a frenzy.
Bradley finished with eight tackles including three tackles for loss, two on that drive, to propel Temple to a 20-17 win over No. 21 Maryland. It was the Owls first victory over an Associated Press Top-25 opponent since downing No. 20 Cincinnati last season, a win that was sealed with an interception by Bradley in overtime.
The senior linebacker said this defense lives by one mantra and they put it on display throughout the game against the Terrapins.
“Put the ball down,” Bradley said. “It doesn’t matter where we’re at. We played together. Just put the ball down and we’ll go after the next play.”
That mantra became even more evident by Bradley’s stop considering that the Owls punting unit failed to wrap up Maryland returner DJ Turner around midfield and he took it 55 yards down the sideline to the Temple 4-yard line. The Owls stopped McFarland on four straight plays with Bradley making three of them.
“Play the next play,” Bradley said. “Put the ball down. You versus me. We’re going to win that.”
While Bradley’s heroics appeared to seal the win, the Owls offense and special teams unit did not do its defense any favors. Offensively, Temple (2-0) showed some explosiveness as quarterback Anthony Russo (Archbishop Wood) completed a 29-yard touchdown to Isaiah Wright in the first quarter then topped it by hooking up with Jadan Blue (132 receiving yards) for a 79-yard score in the third. Take those two plays out and the Owls were not able to muster much throughout the game.
Following Bradley’s stop, the offense ran three plays in under 20 seconds, coinciding with two Maryland timeouts and the ball remained at the Temple 3-yard line. Punter Adam Barry shanked a kick which went out of bounds at the Owls 10-yard and the Terrapins were basically right back where they left off on the previous drive.
Maryland quarterback Josh Jackson, who went 14-for-36 for 164 yards, threw an incompletion on first down. The Terrapins went back to McFarland who was stopped by Benny Walls (St. Joe’s Prep). A false start on third down didn’t help Maryland. Finally, two more incompletions including one of fourth down stopped another drive inside the 10-yard line and capped off a staunch defensive performance by the Owls.
Temple head coach Rod Carey stressed that having his defense in that position on two consecutive drives was not a concern but rather a situation that they embraced.
“I think they thrive off of it,” Carey said. “I don’t think it’s dealing with pressure but loving the moment is what their attitude is. You train all this time to be in moments like that. Today were successful on a lot of them.”
The Terrapins (2-1) came into the game having scored 142 points, which was the third-most by an FBS team through its first two games since 1936. The Owls limited them to two offensive touchdowns. The Owls defense showed it was up to the task from the outset.
Junior defensive back Harrison Hand picked off Jackson on the opening drive. Two drives later, the Terrapins were set up with great field position and drove to the goal line. Another fourth-down situation resulted in a tackle for loss by redshirt sophomore Ifeanyi Maijeh, who recorded two sacks on the day.
Maijeh played sparingly last season but has three sacks in two games. He was credited with a blocked extra point in the third quarter but gave that to fellow defensive lineman Quincy Roche, who also had a sack and tackle for loss. He’s taken his game to another level and played with a chip on his shoulder against a nationally ranked opponent.
“I didn’t play that much last year,” Maijeh said. “This year, I’m getting a chance to play and I’m going to give it my all. I don’t want to let anybody down.”
The next Maryland drive ended with a missed field goal. Walls and Hand sniffed out a fake field goal in the second quarter and put an end to a drive in what became a customary way for many of the Terrapins drives to falter throughout the contest.
Specials teams wasn’t just an issue for the Terrapins. The Owls punting unit had miscues throughout the day. Freddie Johnson touched the ball on the Owls first punt of the day, which set up Maryland at the Temple 19-yard line but luckily Maijeh made the clutch play on fourth down. On the ensuing punt, the ball bounced through Barry’s legs for a safety. Add in the poor tackling on Turner’s return and the shanked punt and it was a long day for the punt team.
Carey was the first to point out the mistakes on special teams but couldn’t help note the result of the game, despite everything that happened.
“We were not perfect,” Carey said. “We lost the turnover battle. Everything you’re supposed to do to lose a game we did but we executed well enough to overcome that.”
Regardless, the Owls held on, spearheaded by Bradley, who made arguably the biggest play at the time. He was happy to have been in position to do it and help bring Temple the win.
“It was the best feeling ever,” Bradley said. “The d-line did their job. They got downhill, pushed the offensive line and opened it right up for me.”
Looking Ahead:The Owls will travel to play Buffalo next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU.