It began less than two minutes into the season and hasn’t stopped since. Temple has given up 3,304 passing yards on the season, which is the most in program history – and the Owls still have two games left.
When Central Florida junior quarterback Blake Bortles connected with junior wide receiver J.J. Worton for the game-tying 30-yard touchdown with 1 minute and 6 seconds remaining, and then again with a 64-yard strike to junior wideout Rannell Hall to set up the game-winning field goal with 10 seconds to play, it was the culmination of the Owls’ two biggest issues – late game defense and defending the pass.
“In my job, I always feel that I never want to say that we’re not talented enough,” coach Matt Rhule said. “I feel like I owe it to those kids to never say that. I just feel like, whether it’s them or the kids that we recruit, our job is to keep recruiting defensive playmakers. We haven’t had a lot of guys make a ton of plays on defense.”
In the nine games Temple has lost this season, opponents have averaged 357.9 passing yards. On Saturday, Bortles collected 404 yards against the Temple defense. Two weeks ago, Southern Methodist quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw for 538 yards against the Owls.
Temple has played three games since defeating Army, and had a lead or was tied in the fourth quarter of all three. For a team that opened the season with six consecutive losses, the Owls have shown steady improvement. But closing out opponents has been a continuing issue.
During the two games against SMU and Rutgers, the Owls were outscored by a combined 65-28 in the second half. Rutgers scored a game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left, and SMU reeled off 17 points in the final 10 minutes.
“Guys are trying to make plays, that’s what you want to do,” sophomore linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. “We’re fighting out there. We can hang with anybody. I don’t care what anybody says, this team is good. We are a good football team, but we’re just on the short end of the stick right now.”
A lack of depth and talent in the secondary has made late-game situations more difficult for the Owls.
“That’s my job in the offseason,” Rhule said. “We still have games to play, and we’re going to keep getting better, but the offseason is to find the athletes that can help us in those situations.”
Defensive coordinator Phil Snow has been coaching football for more than 30 years. Snow said he realizes it isn’t just the players on the field.
“I’ve been doing this a long time so I’m not frustrated, I’m disappointed,” Snow said. “I’m not disappointed in the players. I’m not finding a way for them to win, and that’s part of my job. We all have a responsibility, players and coaches. That’s how I tell the other coaches to look at it, because [the players] are a reflection. They’re our DNA.”
Improving the defense is among one of the many things that Temple will need to work on during its final two games against Connecticut and Memphis.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that are getting better,” Snow said. “We’re addressing it. But it’s hard to address in practice because it’s not the same thing. I just hope the last two games we continue to work.”
Jeffrey Neiburg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Jeff_Neiburg.