On senior night, the seniors went home disappointed as Temple lost 28–21 to Connecticut despite having a 21–0 lead at halftime.
“I’m extremely frustrated and angry at the way we played in the second half,” coach Matt Rhule said. “I’m disappointed for all the fans and loyal students that came out to watch us play.”
With UConn beating the Owls, Temple is now the only team in the American Athletic Conference without a win in conference play.
Freshman quarterback P.J. Walker showed his versatility on the opening drive as he escaped the rush and reversed field to pick up 16 yards. That was the main play of the drive and eventually set Temple up for a field goal attempt. However, freshman Nick Visco missed the field goal, as the kick went well wide right after a low snap.
After both teams punted, Temple redshirt-senior cornerback Abdul Smith picked off UConn redshirt-freshmsan quarterback Casey Cochran on UConn’s second drive of the game to set up Temple in good field position on UConn’s 23. It was Smith’s first career interception.
“I told people I was going to get a pick,” Smith said. “I studied the quarterback… I know he wanted to throw the wheel route. But at the end of the day, if I didn’t get a pick and we won the game I would’ve took that.”
On the two ensuing plays, the Owls went backwards. After a Walker sack and Harper getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage for a loss, the Owls were faced with a third-and-26. Walker delivered with a pass to senior wideout Ryan Alderman for a gain of 34 yards, setting the Owls up on the 6-yard-line. P.J. Walker then finished the drive on the next play with a six yard keeper off of a read option for the game’s opening score with 25 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
On the Owls’ next drive, a pass interference call on junior cornerback Byron Jones set up the Owls at the UConn 14-yard-line. Two plays later, Harper hit sophomore wide receiver Robby Anderson on a slant, and Anderson fought his way through several UConn defenders into the endzone for an eight-yard touchdown reception.
After Temple’s defense forced another Huskies’ punt, a low snap sent senior punter Cole Wagner scrambling in the backfield and forced him to put up a punt on the run that resulted in a negative nine yard punt to put the Owls on the UConn 18-yard-line. On the very next play, Zaire Williams took a handoff from Walker and rushed for an 18-yard touchdown. It took the Owls five seconds to score on the drive.
After another punt by the Huskies, junior linebacker Yawin Smallwood’s sack forced Harper to fumble, and the ball was recovered by UConn to give the Huskies the ball back with less than six minutes left in the first half.
Temple’s defense stood strong and forced a turnover on downs. But the Owls’ ensuing possession was again halted when Harper was sacked by senior defensive end Tim Willman, forcing another fumble. It was Harper’s second fumble of the half. UConn then kneeled to end the half with the Owls up 21–0.
Temple’s defense was strong in the first half forcing four punts, and interception and a turnover on downs, and gave up zero points.
But the Huskies would change that on the opening drive of the second half when Cochran connected on a 33-yard pass to junior wide receiver Geremey Davis for a touchdown to open the scoring for UConn.
After a series of punts, the Huskies kept clawing back and capitalized with a four-yard touchdown run by sophomore tailback Max DeLorenzo to make it a one position game at 21–14 with 43 seconds left in the third quarter.
After being effective in the first half, the Owls offense was in a stall to start the second, and was forced to punt on their first three drives.
“I thought we were going to have energy in the second half,” Rhule said. “I certaintly thought that our team shouldn’t think that it was going to be easy in the second half but [UConn] came out, they moved the football, they came to play. We were just never able to get anything going on offense.”
The Huskies took full advantage and brought the ball to the Temple one-yard-line on their next drive.
After holding strong, the Owls defense seemed to make a goal-line stand and force a turnover on downs, but a pass interference call on fourth down in the end zone gave UConn a new set of downs.
The Owls’ defense forced UConn to another fourth-and-goal at the one but this time Cochran was able to get in the endzone for the touchdown. The following extra point tied the game up at 21 with 6:52 left in the fourth quarter.
Temple’s offense seemed to get the ball moving a little better on the ensuing drive, until Walker was picked off by Smallwood in the middle of the field, who returned the ball 59 yards for a UConn touchdown. The Huskies held a 28–21 lead with 4:20 left in the fourth.
Facing a fourth-and-3 with less than three minutes remaining in the game, Walker completed a pass to Anderson for a seven yard gain and a crucial Temple first down to keep them in the game.
But Smallwood, who was all over the field all game, sacked Harper again for a 18 yard loss to back Temple up to the Huskies 45. Two plays later, the Owls turned the ball over on downs and UConn was able to run out the clock.
After the game Harper, commented on his feeling about not being able to get a win for the seniors on senior night.
“I feel bad,” Harper said. “Because I feel like we had this game, and I just feel like we let them down as a team to not go out there and finish this game with a win.”
Walker finished the day 26 for 46, passing for 280 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
“I think the seniors were disappointed,” Rhule said. “As I told the seniors, senior day is not about what you’ve done, it’s about your legacy moving forward. The legacy I’d like them to leave is exactly where are right now – how to finish and win a ballgame.”
Senior H-back Chris Coyer was emotional after his last home game as an Owl.
“I was sitting in [the locker room] for awhile,” Coyer said. “But it’s tough to leave. Knowing that this is the last time that I’m going to walk in and walk out of here as a Temple Owl, it’s almost hard to believe, I’m almost in a little bit of shock. But we got to keep moving forward.”
Temple will play its final game of the season next Saturday against Memphis.
Samuel Matthews can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SJMatthews13.