E.J. Warner’s record-breaking day still not enough for a win

Warner became Temple’s record holder for passing yards in a game and passing yards in a season, but the Owls still lost in a shootout to Houston.

Football player E.J. Warner as he prepares to throw the ball to his teammates at their game against Tulsa. ROBERT CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple Football (3-7, 1-5 American Athletic Conference) lost 43-36 to the University of Houston (6-4, 4-2 The American) Saturday afternoon. Despite the loss, the Owls’ offense continued to show potential against the Cougars, following up last week’s 54-point performance with a 486-yard passing day.

Temple managed to keep up with a Houston offense that averages 37.4 points per game. However, Temple’s poor run defense and inability to come up with stops on key downs led to the loss.

Temple was able to take advantage of Houston’s 107th-ranked pass defense by throwing the ball all evening. Freshman quarterback E.J. Warner played his best game of the season, breaking Temple’s record for passing yards in a game and in a season by a freshman. 

Warner completed his first seven pass attempts, quickly establishing that he was accurately reading Houston’s defense. Warner got into a rhythm with quick passes that relied on timing and precision and continued to expand on those throws by passing downfield more as the game continued. 

“[Warner was] poised, making confident throws,” said head coach Stan Drayton during his postgame press conference. “The kid is getting better and better and better every single week.” 

Warner’s performance carried Temple’s offense all game as the Owls struggled to consistently run the ball, totalling 47 rushing yards on Saturday.

Warner was able to break two records with his performance, both held by current Carolina Panthers quarterback P.J. Walker. Warner is now in elite company and has solidified himself not only in Temple’s record books, but also as the possible future of Temple football. 

However, old habits followed Temple’s defense into another game as the Owls struggled to contain the run once again. Houston averaged more than seven yards per carry, further exposing Temple’s inconsistencies with closing gaps and filling rushing lanes. 

“You can’t win ball games making the mistakes that we’re making,” Drayton said at his Monday press conference. “These are things that are principal.”

Those mistakes ultimately led to redshirt freshman running back Stacy Sneed manufacturing several long runs for Houston. With Temple coming back down to Earth and struggling to run the ball themselves, they lost the time of possession battle again on Saturday. 

On the second play of the second half, Sneed ran the ball for 32 yards. On the next play, he ran in a 23-yard touchdown. Redshirt sophomore linebackers Yvandy Rigby and Jordan Magee made mistakes when Rigby didn’t fill his gap on the inside zone play and Magee missed a tackle.

Temple’s defense was successful in forcing the Cougars into third and fourth-down situations, however, Houston managed to convert seven of its 13 third downs and all three of its fourth downs. 

Houston’s Clayton Tune was a major contributor to Houston’s success. The senior quarterback routinely escaped the pocket and extended plays with his legs, leading to first downs and extended drives.

”That quarterback, man, he’s a special special player,” Drayton said. “His ability to extend plays and get the ball downfield, convert on third down, convert on fourth down. You know, those are ways to win ball games.”

Tune’s elusiveness moved the pocket and created throwing lanes for himself, while allowing receivers to get open down the field.  

Late in the first quarter on fourth and 12, Tune evaded several Temple defenders, escaped to his right and completed a pass to redshirt freshman wide receiver Samuel Brown for 15 yards and a first down. Houston would go on to score a touchdown on that drive to eventually win the game. 

With this loss, Temple is now ineligible for a bowl game this season. Temple’s last bowl appearance was a 2019 blowout loss to the University of North Carolina in the Military Bowl. 

“We’ve got so much to work on as a football program,” Drayton said. “I think we’re locked in and focused on that.”

Temple’s next game is against No. 22 University of Cincinnati (8-2, 5-1 The American) at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday. The Owls have not beaten Cincinnati since 2018 and will look to avenge last year’s 52-3 loss against the Bearcats.

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