Central Florida didn’t need any help scoring on Saturday.
The top offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision got it anyway.
The Knights (10-0, 7-0 American Athletic Conference) scored 24 points off five turnovers in their 45-19 win against Temple at Lincoln Financial Field. Temple (5-6, 3-4 The American) gave away the ball three times in the second quarter, lost its three-point lead and entered halftime trailing by 18.
“[Central Florida’s defense] was pretty fast, but we could have out-quicked them if we didn’t have so many turnovers,” said redshirt-junior running back David Hood, who had 12 carries for 81 yards. “That’s what just threw off our rhythm. We weren’t able to get it in rhythm and keep it going.”
After Saturday’s loss, the Owls have to beat Tulsa (2-9, 1-6 The American) next week in Oklahoma to earn their sixth win and become bowl eligible.
Hood expected Temple to have to engage the Knights, who are ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, in an offensive shootout.
Temple took a 10-7 lead with 13 minutes, 37 seconds left in the second quarter after redshirt-junior quarterback Frank Nutile escaped pressure and floated a pass to redshirt-senior wideout Keith Kirkwood.
The Knights quickly responded and Temple never led after Kirkwood’s catch. Sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton lofted a ball downfield for redshirt-junior wideout Tre’Quan Smith, who beat redshirt-senior defensive back Mike Jones in coverage to make a 41-yard reception.
Four plays later, Smith beat Jones in coverage again for a 16-yard catch at the 2-yard line near the sideline. Central Florida ended the 2:06 drive with a touchdown run.
Temple’s next four offensive possessions were rife with dysfunction. The Owls threw an interception, lost a fumble, punted and threw another interception before they ended the second quarter with a field-goal drive.
Nutile’s first of four interceptions Saturday came with 10:33 left in the second quarter. Knights junior inside linebacker Pat Jasinski undercut a pass intended for redshirt-freshman tight end Kenny Yeboah. With only 21 yards separating them from the end zone, the Knights scored on a 9-yard touchdown catch by freshman wide receiver Otis Anderson.
Redshirt-senior outside linebacker Shaquem Griffin forced junior running back Ryquell Armstead to fumble on the second play of Temple’s next drive. The play led to a Knights field goal.
Griffin, who is one-handed and projected to be a third-round 2018 NFL Draft pick, also intercepted a Nutile pass in the third quarter.
“He’s big enough to be able to come up and play the run, but he’s also fast enough to cover our slot receiver, which is a testimony to his overall athletic ability,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said.
Temple’s defense forced a punt with 3:14 left in the second quarter, but Nutile threw an interception on the next play. The 17-yard return by redshirt-junior defensive back Kyle Gibson led to a touchdown on the next play.
Central Florida played press coverage well against Temple’s receivers and pressured Nutile to get him moving out of the pocket, coach Geoff Collins said.
The Knights also dropped eight men into coverage sometimes, he added. Army West Point and Navy, the first two defenses Nutile faced, rely on blitzes heavily and therefore don’t have as many men in coverage.
Nutile addressed the team in the locker room after Collins did and apologized for his turnovers, Collins said.
“I just think I made a lot of bad mistakes, bad decisions with the ball, and it’s very uncharacteristic of me,” Nutile said. “Obviously, I put the team in a bad situation. The defense played great today. It’s hard to win a game when the quarterback throws four interceptions.”
Nutile played his second game against a ranked team. When he played in relief on Sept. 21 against South Florida, which is No. 23 in the AP Poll, he completed 4-of-12 attempts for 57 yards and an interception and got sacked once.
In his first three starts, Nutile completed 61-of-89 attempts for 803 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He completed 42.5 percent of his passes on Saturday for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
In three of Temple’s six losses, the starting quarterback has completed less than 50 percent of his passes. Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Logan Marchi completed 3-of-13 attempts against South Florida and threw 20-for-41 for 182 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions against Houston on Sept. 30.
“It’s easy to just say, ‘Hey, Nutile had four picks and, you know, what was wrong with that,’” Patenaude said. “It’s a combination of the calls, the protections, the routes and the throws. So we’ll go back and we’ll get it fixed.”
After its loss on Senior Day, Temple has to shift its focus to playing Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane have lost four games in a row, but they have a positive turnover margin and forced South Florida senior quarterback Quinton Flowers to throw an interception on Thursday.
Tulsa only lost to the ranked Bulls by seven points, so Temple can’t relax next Saturday.
“I feel like we let the seniors down today, and that’s going to hurt,” Collins said. “But we have a chance to make it right this next week traveling out to Tulsa.”