If you thought things were bad before, the Owls somehow managed to make them worse.
Recent history has seen the Owls dominate Rutgers. Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, things were different. Using three Brian Johnson touchdowns, the Scarlet Knights (4-4, 1-3) won 30-14, keeping the Owls (1-7, 0-3) winless at home.
Rutgers snapped a 25-game losing streak in Big East play. It was also the program’s first conference road victory since 1998.
Temple senior defensive tackle Taso Apostolidis summed up losing to Rutgers and allowing the Scarlet Knights to grab their first conference win in over three years.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world. Out of my whole four years here, this is the only team I’d beaten three times in a row, and to take a loss to them…it’s a bad feeling to give up that win in the Big East,” he said.
Earlier this week at his weekly address to the media, Temple coach Bobby Wallace said both teams were evenly matched up.
That was not the case yesterday.
With four games left against Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, Temple is in serious danger of finishing with just one win this season.
“I just feel like we’re not in rhythm and I don’t have all the answers for it either,” Wallace said after the game. “But it’s something I got to address somehow before we get to Syracuse.”
Rutgers actually came into the game short-handed, with injuries to starting running back Justin Hairston and wide receiver Tres Moses. It didn’t seem to make a difference. The Scarlet Knights played a rather conservative game with an efficient mix of runs and play action passes. Temple’s defense had no answers.
For the Owls, it was another sorry display of bad penalties, bad play calling and inept play.
“It’s bad, it’s bad,” lamented Apostolidis, who personally took blame on a Rutgers touchdown when he jumped offside. “I don’t know, our team just isn’t clicking right, and we’re inexperienced and playing a lot of people that have never faced the Big East. It’s just bad.”
Adding insult to injury, the Owls lost starting quarterback Mike McGann with a hyper-extended elbow in the first half. Wallace said McGann might miss the next game, Nov. 8 at Syracuse. McGann looked shaky from the start, overthrowing receiver Zamir Cobb on his first attempt. He finished 5 of 13 for 54 yards and two interceptions.
Replacing McGann, junior-college transfer sophomore Walter Washington played well, completing 15 of 28 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown. He also ran for a score as time expired.
The Scarlet Knights used good field position on the opening drive, as they went 29 yards on five plays. Johnson capped the drive with a run over the left side for a 1-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead.
A weird sequence in the first quarter saw three straight possessions ended in interceptions. The Owls were the victims of two of those picks. The Scarlet Knights did not botch the second opportunity. They marched 43 yards, capping off the drive with a 7-yard scoring pass from Ryan Hart to Johnson.
Rutgers used short passes on their next drive as Johnson ran four yards for his third touchdown of the game. Johnson, who had four scores last week in a loss to Pittsburgh, finished the game with 158 total yards. For the second straight home game, the Owls fell behind. Rutgers’ lead would balloon to 27 before Temple even got on the board.
The Scarlet Knights’ two scoring drives covered a combined 72 yards. Hart and his offense took advantage of the short field. He finished 30 of 42 for 316 yards and one touchdown. Temple’s secondary has now yielded at least 300 yards passing in four of its seven games.
“What can I say? It’s very frustrating,” Wallace said. “It hurts to see their faces after games. Our kids try, there is not any quit in them. And I will say this: When you’ve struggled for as long as we’ve struggled, one good thing that comes out of this is that they learn never to give up.”
After a sack and recovery by Temple’s junior linebacker Christian Dunbar, the offense scored four plays later on a 16-yard scoring pass to Cobb. It was one of the few bright spots for the Owls, although a comeback never seemed likely. Cobb ended the game with 10 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown.
One player who began the season hot, but has looked ineffective the past few games, is senior tailback Makonnen Fenton. Since returning from a rib injury, Fenton does not look like the back that rushed with authority in the season-opener against Penn State for 118 yards. He managed just five carries for 19 yards and is now splitting time with junior Jamil Porter.
“He [Fenton] didn’t look like himself today,” Wallace added.
Problems have also festered on the offense as a unit overall. After the Owls’ first win of the season against Middle Tennessee State, they were averaging just over 400 total yards a game. In their last three games, they’ve slumped to just 243 a game.
“I really just try and stay focused with what the defense is doing and just be trusting the offense to go out and do their job,” said safety Lawrence Wade, who played running back for two years before switching to defense.
Something is awry with Owls offensive coordinator Dave Brock’s spread offense. And while players are failing to execute, play calling has turned predictable. With McGann possibly sidelined for an undetermined amount of time, the offense could continue to sputter.