UPDATED: This article was updated on Oct. 8. at 10:25 p.m.
Temple University’s football team made a statement in its historic win against American Athletic Conference opponent East Carolina (2-3, 0-2 The American) on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Owls’ (3-3, 2-0 The American) offense and defense played their best game of the season in a 49-6 rout of ECU. Temple’s win against the Pirates marked its largest margin of victory against a Football Bowl Subdivision school in program history.
Temple’s defense did not allow a touchdown and forced ECU’s offense into seven three-and-outs. The Owls held the Pirates to 120 yards passing and 76 yards rushing with 53 yards coming on a single run in the fourth quarter.
Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Anthony Russo finished the game with 254 yards, four touchdowns and completed 21 of 25 passes. He had as many touchdowns as he did incompletions on the day. He connected with junior wide receivers Randle Jones and Isaiah Wright for 31-yard and 19-yard touchdown passes, respectively.
ECU coach Scottie Montgomery said Temple simply “outcoached” him.
With the win, Temple remains one of three East Division teams that are 2-0 in conference play. The Owls will face the other two teams — Cincinnati and Central Florida — back to back on Oct. 20 and Nov. 1.
Russo had an 84 percent completion rate. Still, he recorded his fourth straight game with an interception. On the fifth offensive play of the game, Russo overthrew Jones by 10 yards into the waiting arms of ECU senior defensive back Corey Seargent for his sixth interception of the year.
“That’s just on my part, stupid,” Russo said. “He was double-covered. I just got to come off it and check it down or tuck it and run for a couple of yards and get a positive play.”
“[Russo] is a really resilient kid,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “He has a lot of confidence in himself, and he has a lot of confidence in what we’re doing. And he did a really good job bouncing back.”
After Russo’s interception on Saturday, Temple scored 28 consecutive points on its way to victory.
Russo threw for 117 yards and two touchdowns on the three drives after his turnover.
Temple didn’t flinch after the initial turnover. Patenaude said he knew the Owls’ offense would be successful because of ECU’s defensive scheme.
“[ECU] played a lot of soft coverage,” Patenaude said. “What you saw today was just basic day-one install. That is the stuff we put in the first day we got here, it is stuff we have run all summer. And we were hitting hitches and rollovers and when they were coming up and [pressing] us, we would just throw it over their heads.”
The Owls’ wide receivers stepped up on Saturday. Graduate student Ventell Bryant, who was injured during practice last week, had his snaps limited and managed one catch for 6 yards. Redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Freddie Johnson left the team during the week due to a family medical emergency. Johnson later returned, but missed too many days of practice to play on Saturday.
Temple receivers didn’t drop any passes against ECU. Eleven different players caught passes from Russo and redshirt freshman Todd Centeio. Russo threw four touchdown passes to four different wide receivers, marking the first time an Owls quarterback did so since Phillip Walker against Southern Methodist in November 2015. Freshman wide receiver Sean Ryan led the Owls with 57 yards and caught his first career touchdown.
“The receivers took it upon themselves,” Wright said. “When we are making plays, it makes it easier for the rest of the team to do what they gotta do.”
With less than eight minutes left in the first quarter, Ryan was wide open for a 24-yard touchdown, to give Temple their first score of the game.
As the Owls led, 7-0, ECU sent out its offense on fourth-and-1 looking to convert. Freshman backup quarterback Holton Ahlers attempted a run up the middle where junior linebacker Shaun Bradley made the initial hit to slow Ahlers. Senior safety Delvon Randall followed Bradley to bring Ahlers down short of the first down.
Coach Geoff Collins gave credit to defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker for the “good call” on the fourth down stop.
“Our guys executed the call as a defense we’ve never run before,” Collins said. “We knew it was wired from that formation with that quarterback in that situation and the defense made a huge game-changing play to give our offense the ball at their end.”
Six minutes later, with the Owls at the 7-yard line, Russo targeted redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Branden Mack in the end zone. He leaped over Seargent for the catch to give Temple a 14-0 lead.
Less than one minute into the second quarter, senior running back Ryquell Armstead scored a 1-yard touchdown. Two minutes later after an ECU three-and-out, Wright stood on the Temple 35-yard line awaiting a punt.
Wright fielded the punt at the 41-yard line and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown to make the game 28-0 with just less than 13 minutes left to play in the first half. His score marked the sixth consecutive game in which Temple scored a non-offensive touchdown.
Redshirt senior Freddie Booth-Lloyd, a 330-pound defensive tackle Collins calls “Freddie Love,” scored his second rushing touchdown of the season with 8:34 remaining in the fourth quarter to put the Owls up 49-6.
Wright’s punt return and Booth-Lloyd’s score in the fourth quarter exemplified the Owls’ strongest asset as a team, which is their versatility, Collins said.
“That’s a huge part of what we do, just a lot of guys playing different positions,” Collins said. “Freddie Love with another touchdown, he’s playing nose guard for us and does a tremendous job on defense and then comes over and plays offense. [Redshirt-sophomore defensive tackle] Dan Archibong is our starting three-tech and he comes in and plays tight end in short-yardage situations.”