The Owls turned the ball over on four different occasions, including once in the red zone, preventing any sort of offensive momentum throughout the game and leading to Temple’s eventual defeat against Cincinnati.
Temple Football (3-8, 1-6 The American Athletic Conference) fell to the University of Cincinnati (9-2, 6-1 The American) 23-3 on Saturday evening at Lincoln Financial Field.
While Temple’s offense was the storyline in their 43-36 loss to Houston last week, Temple’s defense held the spotlight today. Redshirt junior outside linebacker Layton Jordan finished the game with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Cincinnati averaged 32.6 points per game entering the contest.
Prior to the game, Cincinnati senior linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. led the nation in tackles for loss with 19 and was regarded as the best defensive player in the matchup. While that may remain true, the Owls’ Jordan shined against the Bearcats, now ranking top ten in the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss.
“Credit to our defense to come out in the second half and allow two field goals,” said head coach Stan Drayton. “We got to address the offensive production or lack thereof.”
Coming off of a 486-yard passing performance, true freshman quarterback E.J. Warner managed to throw for only 167 yards and two interceptions. In the first half alone, he passed for only 99 yards and one interception, completing 63 percent of his passes.
Warner finds preferred targets for each game, with today’s favorite being redshirt junior tight end Jordan Smith. Smith had five receptions on nine targets, including seven targets in the first half.
Cincinnati’s cornerbacks did not shy away from man-to-man coverage. The same coaching staff that shut down Temple 52-3 last season, with the likes of former cornerbacks Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant, deployed the same strategy against the Owls.
Drayton saw last year’s game and knew the Owls needed to start out fast, attacking the Cincinnati defense. However, this game plan fell through, with Temple’s play calling contributing to their own mistakes. Short yardage gains caused the Owls to fall behind on downs early and often.
Temple also became their own worst enemy with redshirt sophomore running back Edward Saydee fumbling the ball with less than a minute left in the quarter. This set up a Cincinnati 14-yard touchdown rush by senior running back Ryan Montgomery to begin the second quarter. Temple has now had at least one fumble and one interception in back-to-back games.
“Turnovers and the mistakes that we made are so costly that they are hard to overcome,” Drayton said.
Offensive turnovers negate impressive defensive moments, like the Owls’ forced turnover on downs with the Bearcats at the Owls’ one-yard line. Prior to Temple’s goal line stand, Cincinnati had scored in 29 of 32 in red zone attempts.
Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell got his early lead and successfully ran the ball. Once they began to pick up chunk yardage, he started operating out of play-action, leading to even bigger gains for his Bearcats.
Temple’s defense came out strong in the first quarter, with redshirt freshman cornerback Jalen McMurray accounting for four tackles and a pass breakup while sophomore linebacker Kobe Wilson had two tackles and a pass breakup of his own. Cincinnati’s only key offensive play of the period was blown coverage on a 42-yard touchdown pass from redshirt senior quarterback Ben Bryant to wide receiver Tre Tucker.
McMurray was tasked with defending junior receiver Tyler Scott, who is second in The American in receiving touchdowns. He held him to four catches for 62 yards and no touchdowns. McMurray has been left on an island for most of the season and has come into his own, providing a stable piece on the backend for the Owls.
As the game progressed, Cincinnati converted on key downs that Temple could not. The Bearcats successfully executed three third-downs to the Owls’ zero in the first half alone.
Temple knew they needed to apply pressure on Cincinnati’s quarterbacks to force mistakes and get the Bearcats off the field. Cincinnati entered the game third-to-last in sacks against in The American, but it was not until mobile redshirt sophomore quarterback Evan Prater checked into the game for the Bearcats that the Owls made a difference in the backfield.
The Owls finished the game with five sacks as a team, but Cincinnati still led the time of possession by 13 minutes. Temple’s offense just could not stay on the field with a lack of a consistent passing or rushing attack. Even during the middle of the fourth quarter with the Owls driving, redshirt freshman wide receiver Zae Baines lost the football and Cincinnati recovered the fumble.
Mistakes like these separate nationally-ranked teams, like Cincinnati, to teams near the bottom of their conference, like Temple.
Temple will stay at home to take on East Carolina University (6-5, 3-4 The American) in their final game at 1 p.m. on Nov. 26.