Despite redshirt-sophomore quarterback Anthony Russo helping the Owls’ offense setting a program record of 670 yards, Temple University (5-4, 4-1 American Athletic Conference) could not knock off nationally ranked Central Florida (8-0, 5-0 The American), falling 52-40 on Thursday night.
UCF, which is No. 12 in the College Football Playoff Rankings, took outright control of first place in The American’s East Division, while Temple fell to second place. The Owls are one win away from becoming bowl eligible heading into their road matchup against Houston, which is No. 17 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, on Nov. 10.
The Owls’ path to winning the East Division and qualifying for the conference championship became less direct after Thursday’s loss. With three regular-season games remaining for both teams, Temple would have to finish with a better conference record than UCF in order to face the West Division winner in the conference championship on Dec. 1.
Temple held a 34-28 lead heading into halftime against UCF. The Owls only scored six points in the second half and let the game to slip away due to costly injuries and penalties. The Owls committed 14 penalties for 149 yards, both season highs.
With less than three minutes left in the second quarter and Temple leading, 27-21, junior linebacker Shaun Bradley stopped UCF junior quarterback McKenzie Milton on fourth down, but in the process Bradley committed a facemask penalty that gave the Knights a first down.
Two plays later, senior running back Taj McGowan would score one of his two touchdowns to give UCF a 28-27 lead.
The Owls started the fourth quarter at the Knights’ 12-yard line trailing by eight points. Two linemen — freshman Adam Klein and graduate student Jaelin Robinson — committed false start penalties that pushed Temple back to the 22-yard line. Klein’s false start was his third of the game.
After an incomplete pass intended for freshman wide receiver Sean Ryan, redshirt-freshman kicker Will Mobley missed a 40-yard field goal attempt wide left.
Injuries impacted the Owls on Thursday night. Redshirt-sophomore center Matt Hennessy injured his knee in the third quarter and missed the rest of the game. Redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Vincent Picozzi had to step in at center and play through a left hand injury.
Senior running back Ryquell Armstead re-injured his ankle shortly after the Owls lost their starting center. The injured ankle eventually forced Armstead to miss the majority of the second half. ESPN cameras showed him sitting on the sideline sporting a walking boot on his left ankle.
Regardless, Armstead had a productive day. He rushed 27 times for 142 yards in his first game since Oct. 6 against East Carolina.
On defense, senior safety Delvon Randall injured his knee while making a pass breakup along the sideline late in the third quarter. He left the field twice due to injury but returned both times.
UCF entered the game averaging 537.1 total yards per game, which ranked sixth in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Knights recorded nearly 100 yards more than their average with 632 yards on Thursday.
The Owls couldn’t slow down the Knights rushing attack. Sophomore running back Greg McCrae ran for 188 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Milton rushed for 19 yards and a touchdown and threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns. He returned to the field after missing the Knights’ previous game with an injury.
To keep the game close, Russo and the Owls had to answer a high-powered UCF offense.
Russo threw for 444 yards and four touchdowns, completing 31 of his 52 attempts. Russo recorded 46 yards on 12 rushes and scored a rushing touchdown on a fake field goal attempt in the second quarter.
Russo became the third Temple quarterback to throw for 400 yards or more in a game. He also threw two interceptions. He has thrown 13 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions this season.
Graduate student Ventell Bryant led all receivers with seven receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt-sophomore wideout Branden Mack and junior wide receiver Randle Jones each hauled in a touchdown receptions in the first quarter.
Mack scored from 13 yards out for Temple’s first touchdown. On the Owls’ ensuing drive, Russo delivered a perfect pass down the right sideline to Jones, who outran the UCF defense for a 70-yard score.
The Owls’ next opponent, Houston, (7-1, 4-0 The American) will play Southern Methodist (3-5, 2-2 The American) on Saturday before it takes on Temple.