Last Saturday’s game against No. 7 Louisville was a tale of two halves.
The first involved junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the Cardinals’ offense putting up 24 points on the scoreboard, while their defense held the Owls scoreless and forced coach Matt Rhule to change quarterbacks.
The second half was far less damaging, as Temple outscored Louisville 7-6. Freshman quarterback P.J. Walker, replacing redshirt-junior Connor Reilly, found his groove. The defense stepped up and didn’t allow the Cardinals into the end zone at all during the final 30 minutes of play.
This sort of inconsistency remains one of the Owls’ biggest problems so far. Despite some encouraging signs against a national powerhouse, Louisville still won the game 30-7. Temple fell to 0-5 on the season.
“The first half was not what we wanted both offensively and defensively as we did have some chances,” Rhule said. “The second half showed our team what they’re going to be someday. I wanted it to be now, but it’s not. It’s where we’re headed.”
Freshman defensive lineman Averee Robinson, who had one of two total sacks against Bridgewater, said pressure played a role during the early moments of Saturday’s game. Even though the Cardinals were expected to win, Robinson said the Owls entered the match-up with the mentality of wanting to take down the seventh best team in the nation.
“In the second half, we had a little bit more juice,” Robinson said. “We were really tight in the first half. The second half we came out saying, ‘What do we have to lose?’”
Louisville scored six times in the red zone in as many opportunities. Temple entered the red zone twice, scoring once.
Bridgewater went 25 for 35 and threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns. Statistically the best quarterback in the American Athletic Conference, Temple was unable to stop Bridgewater and the Louisville offense. Scouts from multiple NFL teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles, were in attendance at Lincoln Financial Field, presumably to get a look at one of the most talked about draft-eligible players in college football.
“He is a great quarterback,” safety Abdul Smith said. “We all know that he is. We killed ourselves once again in the first half. We played a lot better in the second half, but I give Louisville credit, they are a great team.”
“Teddy Bridgewater has confidence in all of his guys – he has time when passing,” Smith added. “He starts off with a running game and when that is going well, he uses that play action to build off of. When he is passing, he has protection. He can pass to any of his guys and uses all of his weapons out there.”
One of those weapons was junior wide receiver Eli Rogers, who had five catches for 74 yards and one touchdown. Louisville had seven receivers who collected more than 20 yards. Temple had just three – senior Ryan Alderman, sophomore Robby Anderson and freshman Zaire Williams.
Walker led the Owls in rushing with 33 yards. Junior running back Kenny Harper was second with 28 yards. Williams lost a yard in five carries. Louisville running back Dominique Brown led the Cardinals with 74 yards—more than double of any of the totals the Owls garnered.
“We didn’t do our assignments like the coaches have showed us,” Williams said. “We worked on them all week. This week we have a short week with a game coming up on Friday. We are going to fix it and get the running game going.”
As much progress as Walker made from his appearance against Fordham, Rhule said the offensive line “did not play great.” Not helping the matter is the injury to freshman offensive lineman Dion Dawkins, who broke his foot and is now expected to miss the rest of the season. Rhule attributes an early game blocked field goal to Dawkins’ absence.
Still, Temple was able to end the game on a high note. With less than two minutes left in the game, a blocked punt gave Temple the ball in Louisville territory. The Owls took advantage and scored on a 9-yard pass to junior wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick with less than one minute left on the clock. The play ended any hope of a Louisville shutout.
“The touchdown drive was just us, as a team, being ready to score,” Walker said. “We had our opportunities. They failed, but we never gave up. We just kept playing and kept fighting hard.”
“I don’t feel like we got a garbage touchdown at the end,” Rhule said. “I felt like we moved the football. We had three or four legitimate drives and just couldn’t finish the drive. If anything else, I’m just happy that we finished a drive with a big-time throw and a big-time catch against their starting cornerback.”
Playing against one of the best teams in the nation, the Owls drew 21,709 spectators, only slightly more than their most recent home game against the Fordham Rams. Much of the crowd was gone by halftime – most were gone by the game’s conclusion. As the Cherry Crusade began its traditional “T for Temple U” cheer after the fourth quarter, Rhule told his players to go back out and thank the fans that stayed until the very end.
“We love all the students, but the ones that stayed until the end of the game, I wanted our players to recognize them and the fact that they didn’t leave,” Rhule said. “They sat there and supported and cheered for them all the way to the end of the game.”
“I wanted to thank those fans because that’s the team we’re going to be someday,” Rhule added. “That’s what I told our team. Louisville is a team that we are going to be someday.”
Avery Maehrer can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.