COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Darnell Savage Jr. jumped the route and took the ball the other way.
The University of Maryland senior defensive back intercepted redshirt-sophomore quarterback Anthony Russo’s pass and returned it for a touchdown in the second quarter of Saturday’s game.
But the big play didn’t faze Russo much.
“That’s a hard play always, but it’s always the next play. …You have to have that mentality,” Russo said. “You just have to move on to the next play and if you see something, rip it and just trust it.”
In his first college game as starting quarterback, Russo finished with 228 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception to propel Temple to a 35-14 win.
About an hour before kickoff on Saturday, Temple was faced with a tough decision. With starting quarterback graduate student Frank Nutile unable to play due to an unspecified injury suffered during last week’s 36-29 loss to the University at Buffalo, coach Geoff Collins decided to give Russo the start.
After Saturday’s win, neither Collins nor offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude named a starter for Thursday’s American Athletic Conference opener against Tulsa at Lincoln Financial Field.
Russo debuted last season as the holder on field-goal and extra-point attempts, and he received his first career snaps at quarterback against Buffalo. He completed 2-of-4 attempts for 24 yards. Russo said it was rewarding to finally get a chance to play a full game under center against Maryland.
“You can’t ask for a better scenario,” Russo said. “I got a great team around me. …I prepare every week like I’m gonna be the starter. …Playing a Big Ten [Conference] team, out of conference, at their home stadium with a big crowd like this, that’s what you want. So it was pretty awesome to be out there today.”
On Temple’s sixth offensive play in the second half, redshirt-sophomore tight end Kenny Yeboah lined up in the slot and faked a block for graduate student wide receiver Ventell Bryant. Maryland’s defensive backs stepped up thinking it was a screen pass for Bryant. Yeboah then turned up the left sideline and was wide open for a 47-yard touchdown behind the Maryland defense.
Patenaude said he called the same play last year against the University of Notre Dame, but Yeboah dropped the pass in the end zone.
“I didn’t expect it to be that easy,” Russo said. “The best way I compare it is when you have a wide-open layup in basketball, you can’t tense up, you just gotta do what you gotta do.”
The Owls’ offense recorded season-highs in receiving, rushing and total yards with Russo under center on Saturday.
Russo became the first Temple quarterback to win his starting debut since Clinton “Juice” Granger helped the Owls beat Army West Point on Nov. 17, 2012 at Michie Stadium in New York.
This time last year, Russo might not have been ready to make a collegiate start. Quarterbacks coach Adam DiMichele said in the preseason that Russo has “come a long way” since arriving at Temple in 2016.
Russo said being able to read coverages and know protections has made him more confident on the field.
“I have a better understanding of our offense as well as the defenses we are seeing,” he said. “Last year, I was a little tentative and it caused me to play with my feet off the ground.”
I saw some impressive football from a team that showed little promise in their first two games. It appears that Russo is the spark that ignited this team. Quarterbacks coach Adam DiMichele needs to work with Russo on looking off his intended receiver. I believe that was what contributed to his pick-6. The defender saw the Russo was staring down his intended receiver and jumped the route for the pick-6. With improvement in this area, I believe that Russo is the quarterback that can take this team to a conference Championship.