WEST POINT, NEW YORK — Coach Geoff Collins frequently mentions that he inherited a “top-25 championship program.”
In former coach Matt Rhule’s final two seasons, Temple played in back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history and won the 2016 American Athletic Conference title. But several core players from that team graduated, and it has shown during spurts throughout this season.
On Saturday, Temple (3-5, 1-3 The American) faced Army West Point’s triple-option attack for the second year in a row. Six of the players who started last year’s game on defense graduated.
The Owls’ defense, which only returned four starters, held Army’s second-ranked rushing attack scoreless for a 37-minute, 37-second stretch on Saturday. The unit also allowed the Black Knights’ backup quarterback to complete five passes for 67 yards and throw a game-tying touchdown pass with one second left in the fourth quarter of Temple’s 31-28 overtime loss at Michie Stadium.
Temple commits the 11th-most penalties per game out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams and ranks 113th in red-zone offense. Needing at least three wins in their next four games to be bowl eligible, the Owls are running out of time to fix their mistakes.
“I’ve heard some people talking about transition, transition years and all this stuff, and we’re playing so many young guys,” Collins said during his weekly press conference on Oct. 17. “We don’t care about that. We want to win, and we have a responsibility for everybody in this organization to give everything they have to these seniors on this football team, and I think that’s a huge point for all of us.”
“I don’t really know what to say to be honest,” said sophomore linebacker Shaun Bradley, who had a team-high 11 tackles against Army. “I guess we just got to go harder. We’re just young, but at some point, though, some of the young guys, you’ve got to step up.”
Athletes with little FBS experience played on both sides of the ball on Saturday. Redshirt-junior quarterback Frank Nutile made his first-career start with redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi injured. Three offensive linemen made the first starts of their careers.
Despite a new-look line and first-time starter under center, Temple generated 506 total yards of offense. Junior running back Ryquell Armstead had a season-high 151 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Nutile only got sacked twice and completed 20 of his 29 attempts for 290 yards and a touchdown.
Three of Temple’s last four games have been decided by seven points or fewer. The team has lost all three.
On Sept. 30 against Houston, Temple trailed by seven with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Redshirt-junior running back David Hood ran for no gain on third-and-10 from the Owls’ 42-yard line before the team called a timeout with one minute, 43 seconds left. Marchi overthrew Armstead on fourth down. Temple didn’t get the ball back until there were 30 seconds left. The Owls also had to punt on fourth-and-goal after Marchi took a 24-yard sack on their first drive of the game.
Temple dropped seven passes against Connecticut on Oct. 14. Sophomore wideout Isaiah Wright dropped the potential go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, and two players dropped passes on the Owls’ final drive. The team also committed 12 penalties, including two 15-yard facemasks during a Connecticut touchdown drive. Temple lost despite outgaining UConn by 229 yards.
Temple outgained Army by 117 yards on Saturday and went 8-for-15 on third downs. But penalties hurt two scoring chances. Temple had first-and-goal from the 2 in the third quarter but didn’t score. Redshirt-junior offensive lineman Jaelin Robinson false started on third-and-goal from the 2 during the sequence.
In the fourth quarter, a delay of game infraction negated a 51-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Aaron Boumerhi that would have put Temple up by two possessions. Collins said he didn’t want to use a timeout to avoid the penalty because his defense was playing well and the field-goal try was at the edge of Boumerhi’s range. Army scored to tie the game on its next drive.
Army accepted an invitation to the Armed Forces Bowl after the game and will play in the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1984 and 1985. Temple’s season hangs in the balance.
“Championship teams win close games,” senior defensive lineman Jacob Martin said. “We just got to keep on pushing. There’s a lot to build on from here.”
“We still have a chance to [be bowl eligible], but it really hurts when you lose this game,” Nutile said.
“We feel [like] every game is a championship game from here on out, and it’s been the whole year that we want to win each game,” he added. “So it does hurt we didn’t pull it off.