Temple falls to Memphis, ending disappointing season

E.J. Warner and Amad Anderson Jr. broke multiple program records, but Temple Football could not respond when it mattered in its 45-21 loss Friday.

Temple Football closed out its disappointing season with a 45-21 loss to Memphis, despite gaining the Tigers on offense. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

When Temple Football head coach Stan Drayton took to the podium for his postgame press conference Friday afternoon, he was visibly disappointed.

His Owls played a solid game offensively, earning 465 yards of total offense. Despite what the stats show, the Owls were completely outmatched. On the first play of the game, Memphis quarterback Seth Henigan found wide receiver Joe Scates for a 54-yard touchdown just 15 seconds into the game and the Tigers never looked back.

Temple Football (3-9, 1-7 American Athletic Conference) lost to Memphis (9-3, 6-2 American Athletic Conference) 45-21 Friday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. Though they outgained the Tigers, the Owls could not put points on the board or get defensive stops. 

“Offensively, we put up a lot of yards,” Drayton said. “Just a lot of nonproductive drives. Getting the ball in the endzone not as much as we needed to. There was some self-inflicting things there offensively.”

Henigan lit up the Owls’ secondary, completing 18 of his 28 pass attempts for 250 yards and four touchdowns. He also got the job done with his legs, extending plays and avoiding sacks. 

The Owls’ defense struggled all game to stop big plays. Temple allowed 12 plays of more than 15 yards, and Memphis gained a total of 276 yards on those plays.

“Defensively, I thought we could have played better,” Drayton said. “We obviously gave up some tough explosive plays, especially in the second half, them running the ball on us in the second half.”

While Temple’s offense put up impressive numbers, averaging just under seven yards per play, the Owls struggled in short-yardage situations once they crossed midfield. The Owls went 2-8 on fourth down attempts, which was a major reason they only put up 21 points.

Temple quarterback E.J. Warner finished with 330 yards, two touchdowns and a crucial interception inside the 10-yard line. Warner’s pass deflected off wide receiver Dante Wright’s hands and into Memphis linebacker Chandler Martin’s, taking points off the board. Warner completed 27 of his 48 passes on the day.

Warner reached 3,076 passing yards on the year for the second straight season, making him the only Temple quarterback to have two 3,000-yard seasons. Cleveland Browns quarterback P.J. Walker is the only other Temple quarterback with a 3,000-yard season, which he earned in 2016.

“Just a lot of downpoints that we didn’t expect to happen,” Warner said. “We didn’t reach our goals, but it’s something that we can lean on and grow on in the future. I think it makes it sweeter on the back end once we turn this thing around. All the stuff we’ve had to go through and just spending time with these guys. I love this team just being around them at work all season.”

Following the opening touchdown from the Tigers, the Owls went down and scored a touchdown of their own on a 49-yard rush from running back Darvon Hubbard. Memphis continued to pile on through the first half, scoring four touchdowns and taking a 28-6 lead into the locker room at the break. 

Temple showed life in its opening drive of the second half, as the team went on a seven-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a 29-yard touchdown reception for wide receiver Amad Anderson Jr.

Things went downhill for the Owls from there. Memphis scored 17 unanswered points, and Temple’s defense allowed at least 40 points for the sixth time in 2023.

In the final three minutes of the game, Warner connected with Anderson for a 75-yard touchdown. It was Warner’s 23rd on the year, giving him Temple’s single-season record for touchdown passes. He passed another of Walker’s records, as Walker had 22 in 2016.

Anderson finished with a season-high 169 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions. This was the fifth 100-yard game in his career, putting him in the top-five in the program’s history.

“All week at practice we just focused on executing and doing this we would every other week and it carried over,” Anderson said. “I feel like we practiced good this week and it carried over into the game.”

Hubbard was another bright spot on offense for the Owls. The sophomore finished with a season-high 95 rushing yards, including the 49-yard touchdown. He broke free on multiple big runs, averaging just under 10 yards per attempt. 

“I think Hubbard has been steadily getting better over the last half of the season,” Drayton said. “You started to see the timing behind the scheme. He has found a way to make guys with less experience right with his patience, vision and ability to anticipate and break tackles. So that’s something that I’m really happy for.”

The Owls enter the offseason with a lot of uncertainty, but Drayton seemed optimistic about the future of his program.

“I think this is a much more resilient football team than it was a year ago,” Drayton said. “The record’s just not telling you what you want to hear. The end result is what you see, but behind closed doors, there’s something that’s developing that’s special. I can’t wait to expose it to you.”

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