After the football team snapped its 20-game losing streak with a win over Bowling Green Oct. 28, coach Al Golden tried to downplay the victory as much as possible.
Golden told reporters that “we shouldn’t be shutting down Broad Street just yet.”
He told his players that if they let the victory go to their heads, they might suffer a major letdown against their next opponent.
Despite Golden’s warning, the hangover from last week’s win proved to be too much for the Owls to handle.
They dug themselves into a hole early against Central Michigan and struggled to find a way out, suffering a 42-26 defeat at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday.
The loss, Temple’s last home game of the season, dropped the Owls to 1-9.
“Every time around here is the first time,” Golden said.
“It’s the first time we had to handle some praise, the first time we had to come in as a winner and I don’t think our kids were focused and that’s my fault. I didn’t get them focused.”
The Mid-American Conference East Division-leading Chippewas (6-3 overall, 5-0 in the MAC) were led by freshman quarterback Dan LeFevour, who completed 18 of 22 passes for 268 yards and four passing touchdowns. He also rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore running back Ontario Sneed finished with 241 all-purpose yards, one rushing touchdown and three touchdown receptions.
The Chippewas racked up 499 yards of total offense on the Owls.
“Our defense never got them off track,” Golden said. “We never beat a block. We never got any four man pressure on the quarterback. We let them out of [our] contain a couple of times.
“We got pressure in there and we let them escape from the pocket. We didn’t gang tackle like we had been [doing] the last two weeks. I didn’t see any physical-ness to our defense at all.”
The Owls defense got off to a strong start early when sophomore cornerback Georg Coleman intercepted a pass from LeFevour on the Chippewas’ third offensive play of the game. He returned it 31 yards to the Central Michigan 13-yard line.
But the Owls failed to capitalize on the interception, botching a 50-yard field goal attempt on fourth down with a high snap, which gave the Chippewas the ball on Temple’s 40-yard line.
“That really hurt us a lot,” senior tailback Tim Brown said. “The interception gave us the momentum, but then not being able to score kind of kept Central Michigan’s hopes alive.”
Sophomore wide receiver Bruce Francis said much of the same.
“As an offense you have to capitalize on those [turnovers],” said Francis, who caught seven passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns.
“To be a good football team those are the kinds of things you have to do. Once your defense makes a big play you have to capitalize on it.”
Following the missed field goal, the Chippewas scored on four of their next five possessions to take a commanding 28-0 lead with 2:44 left in the second quarter.
The Owls got on the board when sophomore quarterback Adam DiMichele completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Francis shortly before halftime pull the Owls within 28-7.
“That first half hurt us both offensively and defensively,” said DiMichele, who caught a touchdown pass from Brown and connected on 24 of 35 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns.
“We just didn’t compete the way we know how to compete,” he said.
DiMichele said he couldn’t explain why the team seemed so complacent early in the game.
“It just looked like guys were lazy and yawning,” he said. “It was a weird feeling and something hopefully that we don’t feel anymore this year.”
Brown took some of the blame for the team’s early struggles. He finished the game with 113 rushing yards, but was held to 39 in the first half.
“I feel like it was my job to get the offense going with the running game,” Brown said. “Once that brings in the secondary, you can open up the passing game, so I feel like it had a lot to do with me just not running hard enough.”
When the Owls’ offense came together in the second half, the Chippewas countered with a big play each time.
The Owls cut the lead to 35-13 with 4:54 left in the third quarter when DiMichele threw a two-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Marcus Brown.
On the Chippewas’ next offensive play, Sneed scampered 65 yards for a touchdown to push the score to 42-13.
Golden said he was “embarrassed” with the defensive effort and said the Owls didn’t make Sneed work very hard. Sneed piled up 140 yards on only 10 carries.
“They just outworked us,” senior linebacker Walter Mebane said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Although the loss was a letdown after the jubilation and national attention that followed the Bowling Green victory, the Owls refuse to look at the defeat as a setback, Francis said.
“I think this loss brought us down to reality,” Francis said, “but it’s just going to make us more focused and more determined to win.”
The Owls will have to show a lot of focus and determination next Saturday when they take on Penn State (6-4 overall, 4-3 Big Ten Conference) at Beaver Stadium in State College.
“I know everybody’s going to try to make it a big game and everything,” said Golden, a 1991 Penn State graduate who played in four bowl games there.
“But they’re obviously one of the elite programs in the country over the last century and we’re trying to find our way right now. I’m more concerned with my team right now then I am with Penn State.
“I just can’t tell how disappointed I am with how we came out today.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.