It took two quarterbacks, two punters and a pair of stagnant second-half offenses, but the Owls finally played their best game of the season.
At least that was how coach Bobby Wallace saw the Owls’ 34-3 loss to Miami last Saturday.
The Owls gave up 27 points to the Hurricanes before the first quarter expired, but Wallace said he saw a silver lining in playing to an 0-0 stalemate after halftime against one of the most dynamic offenses in the country.
“I think obviously the big plays by their very explosive players, [Sinorice] Moss and [Devin] Hester, put us behind early,” Wallace said. “But defensively, we held them to 34 yards rushing on 33 carries, barely over a yard per carry, which to me is phenomenal.”
If the Owls (0-7) played their best half against the Hurricanes, they will look to perform at or near that level Saturday when they travel to Clemson, S.C., to take on the Tigers at Memorial Stadium. The Owls have played at a number of hostile environments this season, but none carries the rabid reputation of Death Valley.
Clemson (3-3, 2-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) is just 1-2 at home this season, but have a 31-11 home record in Tommy Bowden’s seven years as coach at Clemson.
Though Wallace has never coached against Clemson in any of his years as an assistant or head coach, he said he is familiar with the atmosphere after many trips as a guest.
“I haven’t [coached there], but I’ve visited Clemson a lot,” Wallace said.
“[I’ve had] a lot of close connections with people at Clemson, seems like thousands of friends of mine that have been coaches there,” he added. “I never coached a game we played there. But I know what it’s going to be like.”
Add to the atmosphere a heavy dose of speed – even a little at quarterback, something even Miami doesn’t have – and Saturday could turn into one of the uglier games this season if the Owls aren’t careful.
The Owls did a good job of controlling the clock against Miami, maintaining possession for nearly 35 minutes to the Hurricanes’ 25:07. Senior running back Umar Ferguson gained more than double the amount of rushing yards of Miami’s entire team, carrying 23 times for 77 yards.
Freshman quarterback Joe DeSanzo also helped the offense pick up yardage with a solid 10 for 20, 96-yard passing performance in his debut. DeSanzo replaced senior Mike McGann after the second series.
But feeling comfortable on offense in the pressure cooker of Memorial Stadium is a lot different than calling plays amidst the comparatively sparse crowd at Lincoln Financial Field, both coaches noted.
Bowden, whose team was taken into overtime at home twice already this season, said he wasn’t so sure that is a good thing for Clemson.
“I think Temple’s going to love this environment,” Bowden said. “When I was at Tulane, we didn’t draw real well at home and I imagine y’all struggle with attendance, but 80-something thousand on gameday in all orange, that’s the bad thing I hate about this place. It excites the other team.”