The Owls didn’t hide their embarrassment after the team’s 30-29 loss to the Fordham Rams on Sept. 14.
Freshman running back Zaire Williams said he felt “dead inside.” Senior H-back Chris Coyer said the game ranks among the toughest defeats of his collegiate career. Junior running back Kenny Harper said the feeling he experienced was “disgusting.”
“I’m sorry you had to watch that,” coach Matt Rhule said.
After a back-and-forth matchup in which Temple used all three of its quarterbacks and both of its place kickers, Fordham would start its final drive of the game with 4:29 left on the clock at its own 29-yard-line.
The Rams would eventually find themselves in a fourth-and-two situation near midfield. Junior quarterback Michael Nebrich rushed for a two-yard gain, and the officials brought out the chains.
First down – by inches.
A few seconds later, Fordham faced another do-or-die scenario with a fourth-and-six at the Temple 43-yard line. Once more, Nebrich ran the ball himself, this time for six yards. Again, it was too close to call, and the chains glided back onto the field.
First down – but the clock was nearing zero.
After Nebrich threw one short pass and then an incomplete pass, Temple called a timeout with 13 seconds left and the Rams facing a third-and-two opportunity at the 29-yard-line.
Nebrich dropped back and looked for an open receiver. Avoiding pressure from senior defensive lineman Sean Daniels, Nebrich had no clear options. He decided to take a chance and throw it into the crowded corner of the end zone, where there were twice as many Owls as Rams. That didn’t stop junior wide receiver Sam Ajala, who leapt and caught the pass, holding onto the ball as he fell to the ground for the touchdown.
An extra point later, and the Rams were back on top with four seconds left, sealing the upset victory and worsening Temple’s record to 0-3. In a year with new leadership and a new conference, the loss to Fordham makes this the program’s worst start since 2007.
“Honestly, I’m completely embarrassed,” Rhule said. “I take 100 percent responsibility for that. I told the players I’d take responsibility for that, and we’ll get that fixed. I want to give a lot of credit to Fordham. They played a great game.”
The Rams had 520 yards of total offense, compared to 385 for Temple. After giving the team a chance to win last week, the Owls’ defense regressed Saturday.
“The offense put up points this week, so I feel like this loss is on the defense, myself included,” senior defensive back Abdul Smith said. “I played OK last week, but this week I feel like I played bad. I didn’t do the best I can do.”
On a day where the defense struggled, sophomore linebacker Tyler Matakevich led Temple with 14 tackles, including two for a loss.
“It’s tough,” Matakevich said. “It’s definitely tough. I mean, nobody is going to give you a win. We definitely have to play better. We have to stop some big plays. A few times we gave up a few big plays. We just have to stop them.”
Temple had two sacks the entire game, amassing a total of six yards. In comparison, Fordham had four sacks that totaled 28 yards.
“First of all, we’re not getting a pass rush,” Rhule said. “That quarterback played real well, and they threw a lot of double moves, such as slant and go and go. At the end, they threw a ball up and the kid made a play.”
After making an extra point attempt, Jim Cooper Jr. was finally on the board. His kicking woes were not over, however, as his second attempt later in the half bounced off the left upright and was no good. Rhule later brought in freshman Nick Visco for the remainder of the game (except on kickoffs, where Cooper continued). Visco was perfect, drilling two extra points as many attempts.
“We’ll probably have to move forward with [Visco] as the kicker and try to keep [Cooper] up,” Rhule said. “He did a good job kicking off the rest of the game. That situation is not the way I wanted, but I recognize that they’re freshmen. We have to build them for the long haul and stay with these kids and not let them crack.”
One area the Owls improved on against Fordham was the running game. Both Harper and Williams had strong outings, collecting 105 and 85 yards, respectively. Both figures are season highs for each.
With the team entering a bye week this weekend, Harper said he’d rather get back on the field right away to try and secure the team’s first victory. Coyer said it’s “very frustrating” not being able to play again until a Sept. 28 match at Idaho. With that said, he does see an upside.
“I think that this bye week is something that we need in order to work on all of these little things that we’re not doing quite right and not executing in the game,” Coyer said.
Temple was expected to lose to Notre Dame, a national powerhouse. Houston, while beatable, is a solid team that matched up well with the Owls. But as far as Fordham is concerned, Temple was the clear favorite. By all accounts, the Rams shouldn’t have walked out of Lincoln Financial Field with a victory.
“People should take shots at me now,” Rhule said. “We shouldn’t have lost that game. Let’s be honest. I’m going to be straight up with you guys. We’re better than that team. They played really well, and I respect the heck out of them. I walked over and shook their hands, shook the quarterback’s hand and said, ‘Hey, great job.’”
Saturday marked Temple’s first loss to an FCS Program since a 2009 loss against Villanova. The Owls went on to win nine of their next 10 games after that, giving the program its first bowl appearance in 30 years.
“We went out and played a certain way against Notre Dame,” Rhule said. “We didn’t look the same way today. I take responsibility for it. What happened to this team against Villanova a few years ago, they took responsibility for the way they played. That’s what I have to do as head coach of this team. I have to make them take responsibility for the way they played.”
Avery Maehrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.