Seconds into the fourth quarter, Temple’s Zack Bambary pounced on a loose football.
In the Owls’ American Athletic Conference matchup with Memphis last Saturday night, the Tigers’ B.J. Ross muffed a punt return that allowed the Owls’ special teams unit a turnover and gave Temple’s offense an opportunity with the ball 26 yards from the end zone in Tigers territory. Despite one 10-yard pass for a first down, the drive never materialized, and freshman kicker Austin Jones capped it with a 37-yard field-goal attempt that sailed wide right.
The opportunity to take advantage of a turnover disappeared nearly as abruptly as it had arrived, and never came again. The Tigers’ 2-1 edging of the Owls in the margin of turnovers likened the close battle on the scoreboard, one that ended in a 16-13 Tigers victory off a 31-yard field goal from Jake Elliott as time expired.
“We just couldn’t make as many plays as they made,” redshirt-junior Praise Martin-Oguike said. “That’s pretty much it. … We pride ourselves in just trying to change the game with turnovers. The statistics say when you win the turnover battle, you usually win [the game]. We need to go back to that and try to strip the ball more.”
Temple’s defense, which still ranks 10th among Division I competition in points allowed with 18.1 per game, managed to hold a Tigers rushing attack averaging 206 yards per game prior to Saturday’s contest to 82. Memphis entered the game averaging 36.25 points in each of its prior eight matchups, and was held to 13 until Elliott’s game-winning kick.
“We knew how good the offense was,” Martin-Oguike said. “They spread you out and get you tired. We just worked on the same thing we’ve been working on all year. They kind of have our kind of offense and we were used to that. It helped us.”
Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch moved the ball against the Owls, completing 21 of 28 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown pass in the second quarter. He managed to avoid turning the ball over against a Temple defense that had forced 24 turnovers in its prior eight games.
“We played well but just not good enough,” junior linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. “That last drive, we just didn’t do what we did all game. We gave up big plays and started loafing. … Unfortunately, they drove down the field and kicked the field goals.”
Trailing by three points with five minutes left in the quarter, the Owls’ offense managed to move the ball into field-goal range, setting up a 46-yard kick for freshman Austin Jones. His boot split the uprights, knotting the score and handing Memphis the ball with 2:47 remaining on the clock.
The Owls’ defense, which had held Memphis to 246 total yards to that point, was unable to make a final stand. Memphis managed the clock and picked up 66 yards, sealing automatic bowl eligibility with its sixth win of the season once Elliott’s kick went through.
“They were just running quick outs and we had guys in the flats,” Matakevich said. “We just have to make the play. To play a game 58 minutes as hard as that and then come up short in the end, it hurts.”
“I know we didn’t have too many turnovers,” Matakevich added. “I don’t think we had any turnovers on defense. And I say it all the time – I stress it – that for us to win, we need to create turnovers. Unfortunately, we didn’t [Friday].”
The Owls, who, like Memphis, were seeking their sixth win and automatic bowl eligibility, will look to win that sixth game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
“I thought the defense did a tremendous job until that last drive,” coach Matt Rhule said. “I thought they rallied when we made some mistakes [on offense]. But to win those games, we have to make that play and we didn’t make it. They did. … They made the plays they had to make.”
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