By: Rich Flanagan
Photos: Mike Nance
PHILADELPHIA- Temple University linebacker Chapelle Russell looked up at the scoreboard and noticed how much time still remained on the clock. Central Florida had just driven 99 yards in 1:50, capped off by a touchdown by backup quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. The aghast look Russell had on his face was one that several members of the Temple defense displayed time and again on Saturday night. The Owls knew the Knights had big-play capability. To say they scored early and often is an understatement.
UCF racked up 614 total yards of offense and scored five unanswered touchdowns in the second half on its way to a 63-21 dismantling of Temple at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday. The Owls allowed 60 or more points in a game for the first time since Oct. 12, 2006 when No. 12 Clemson put 63. It was a game that Temple (5-3, 2-2 American Athletic Conference) realistically saw slip away in an instance as they gave up 28 unanswered points in the third quarter alone.
For Russell, there was no way around: he and his teammates were blown out on their home field.
“We just let it slip away,” Russell said. “As a defense, we should’ve just played better.”
The Knights led by seven points after halftime and the Owls did what they needed to begin the third quarter by forcing a three-and-out. Quarterback Anthony Russo (12-for-24 for 199 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions) and the offense were manhandled as they lost three yards on the ensuing drive. From there, the route was on.
Dillon Gabriel found Marlon Williams for a 73-yard touchdown on a slant as Ayron Monroe missed a tackle in the middle of the field and the Knights receiver did the rest. That drive lasted UCF 53 seconds.
Temple answered by gaining three yards in three plays. Bentavious Thompson ran for gains of two and 34 yards on the Knights (6-2, 3-1) next drive, the latter being a score pushed the lead to 42-21 with 6:29 left in the third.
That drive, which lasted 36 seconds, turned into a 24-second drive capped off by a 37-yard touchdown by Otis Anderson, who rushed for 205 yards on 17 carries. The Owls could never answer and they didn’t help themselves by turning the ball over on downs once and Russo throwing two costly interceptions. The second interception set the Knights up at the Temple 34-yard line. Four plays later, the same result occurred as Thompson (89 yards) took in his second score of the night from 11 yards out to make it 56-21.
A week after being trounced by No.19 Southern Methodist on the road, the Owls returned to the Linc where they had only allowed 14.8 points per game but home field advantage was a nonfactor.
One miscue led to the next and the Owls had no response. Russo noted a lack of resilience has contributed to back-to-back losses.
“We have to sit down as a team and figure out why when things go back they just continue to get worse and worse,” Russo said. “We have to find a way to regroup and turn things around.”
Temple head coach Rod Carey saw signs that this game was within reach, particularly in the first half but the second was a total loss and ultimately led to that result.
“We played so bad in all three phases in the second half,” Carey said. “It’s tough to judge. Obviously, they beat us. If we could’ve kept it a one-score game there, somehow tied it up at the beginning of the second half and played like we did in the first, it’s hard to say if that would’ve been reversed or not.”
The first half was a different as Russo put the Owls on the board first with a 32-yard touchdown connection to Randle Jones on the opening drive of the game.
UCF answered 1:37 later as Gabriel (218 passing yards, three touchdowns) found tight end Jake Hescock for one of the Knights 11 plays of 20-plus yards. This one was exactly 20 and resulted in a game-tying touchdown.
The Knights high-octane offense got in gear early as they added two scores in a mere 1:58, the second being Mack’s touchdown scamper. Temple showed some big-play capability of its own as Russo found Branden Mack, who finished with 104 receiving yards, for a nine-yard hookup then a 75-yard connection to cut the lead to 21-14 6:47 left before halftime. The Owls would engineer another scoring drive just before the half as Jager Gardner took in their final touchdown of the day with 20 seconds left in the first half.
It has been a rattling, two weeks for the Owls. They’ve allowed 108 points and 1,269 total yards of offense to SMU and UCF. In a season where the program had defeated two top-25 opponents in the same season for the first time ever, these two losses appear to have a shaken a once promising team. While it seems to a dire situation, Carey doesn’t see it that way and he believes their confidence hasn’t wavered.
“They’re hurting,” Carey said. “Are we worried about their confidence and how they don’t have any? That’s not this group. They’re a confident group but they’re hurting and we have to get there, fix it and move forward. There’s good leadership on this team.”
The Owls have the week off and will return to action on Thursday, Nov. 7 away against the University of South Florida.