Problem after problem after problem.
Nearly every issue the football team addresses each week reveals another aspect that needs drastic improvement. On Saturday, the Owls showed slight gains in pass efficiency and third-down defense, two areas that ruined them in the first half of the season. But new problems reared their heads against Maryland, leading to a 38-7 Temple loss.
Quarterback Mike McGann’s inaccuracy had cost the Owls numerous chances to extend drives in the first five games. His accuracy improved somewhat against the Terrapins – he completed over half his pass attempts for the first time this season – but he was unable to crack the endzone. The Terps’ 5-of-13 conversion rate on third down was not good, but it was an improvement over Bowling Green’s 6 for 9 rate last week.
Still, three punt or kickoff returns were not handled cleanly by the Owls, one a muffed punt that handed Maryland the ball at the Owls’ 19 yard line. In addition, the Terps scuffled offensively through the first quarter and a half before they simply began peppering the left side of the Owls’ defense with pass completions.
And, like last year’s historic loss to Bowling Green, the Owls actually scored first Saturday before the Terps’ route commenced.
“Sometimes, as a player, you just don’t know,” senior offensive tackle John Gross said. “I don’t think [the mistakes] are in any one major area, but every now and then I just know it hurts us. A mistake is a mistake, and the only thing we can do is keep our heads up, keep fighting, keep working.”
Coach Bobby Wallace’s career win percentage, between Temple and Division II North Alabama, fell below .500, at 101-102-1.
The Owls’ defense limited the Terps to 45 yards on their first two possessions, which ended in a turnover on downs and a fumble, respectively. After senior defensive tackle Antwon Burton recovered the fumble at Maryland’s 38, senior running back Umar Ferguson carried five times, including a 2-yard scoring run. Senior kicker Ryan Lux’s extra point gave the Owls their first 7-0 lead of the year.
The Owls did not threaten for the rest of the game, despite big days statistically for safety Garrett Schultz (14 tackles), cornerback Ray Lamb (11 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception) and newly-reinstated safety Justin Johnson (11 tackles, two tackles for loss).
Maryland quarterback Sam Hollenbach threw for 228 yards on 19 of 29 passing, and running back Mario Merrills finished off three of the Terps’ six scoring drives, scoring three touchdowns on 12 carries. Tight end Vernon Davis caught five passes for 79 yards.
Wallace harped on back-to-back drives in the second quarter that ended on fourth and 1 situations. Those drives ended in punts at the Owls’ 40-yard line, and the Terps capitalized with touchdowns on the ensuing possessions to take a 17-7 lead into halftime.
“If we can make just one more yard in the second quarter, we keep driving the football,” Wallace said. “Every inch counts. It’s a game of inches. What looks like a runaway might be completely different if we make one more yard, one and a half more yards.”
Ferguson rushed for 96 yards on 25 carries, but what most impressed Wallace was Ferguson’s zero fumbles in wet and windy conditions. … The Owls reached the red zone once, converting the opportunity into a touchdown. … Mike McLaughlin replaced Jake Hendy at punter and punted five times for an average of 30.8 yards per punt. … The Terps’ 252 passing yards were more than the Owls’ 226 yards of total offense.
Ben Watanabe can be reached at email@example.com