Temple football’s strengths struggle in loss to Duke

Temple’s defense allowed the most points it has all season and the special teams unit had an unsuccessful fake punt during the Owls’ 56-27 loss to Duke in the Independence Bowl in Louisiana.

Senior safety Delvon Randall (center) tackles Duke University sophomore tight end Noah Gray during Temple's 56-27 loss in the Independence Bowl on Thursday at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana. | LUKE SMITH / THE TEMPLE NEWS

SHREVEPORT, La. – Temple University’s pass defense entered Thursday’s Independence Bowl ranked seventh in the Football Bowl Subdivision in fewest passing yards allowed.

Duke University felt as if it had a “beat” on the Owls top-10 pass defense before the matchup, Blue Devils’ coach David Cutcliffe said.

Cutcliffe was right, as Duke (8-5) shredded Temple for 440 yards and five touchdowns through the air in its 56-27 rout of the Owls (8-5) at Independence Stadium. Duke’s 56 points were the most Temple allowed in a game this season.

Temple’s defense consistently allowed big plays in the middle of the field. In the third quarter,  Duke senior wide receiver T.J. Rahming caught a pass from redshirt-junior quarterback Daniel Jones on a slant route and took the ball 85 yards up the center of the field for the go-ahead touchdown.

Jones lived in the middle of the field. Two of his five passing touchdowns came when he lobbed a pass in the middle in the first half on a 34-yard connection with redshirt-senior wide receiver Chris Taylor and a 22-yard pass to Rahming.

Duke’s offensive performance broke eight Independence Bowl records. The Blue Devils broke three as a team, while Jones and Rahming combined to set five of their own.

“To be completely honest with you, it was miscommunication over there,” senior safety Delvon Randall said. “From me, coming from the corners and things like that, it’s on us for not communicating. We didn’t have max communication like we did all season, so those couple of plays really killed us.”

Rahming finished the game with two touchdowns, 240 receiving yards and 12 receptions. Rahming’s 240 yards is the most a Temple defense conceded to one player in a single game since October 2013.

In his final collegiate game, Rahming set an Independence Bowl record for all-purpose yards by a single player with 286.

“When you’re playing man coverage or playing brackets like they do a lot, what happens if you catch a ball in the seam is it’s very difficult to stop a guy from making a big play,” Cutcliffe said.

Temple had a key absence in its secondary with senior cornerback Rock Ya-Sin unable to play because of a sinus infection, he wrote on Twitter after the game.

Defense, however, wasn’t the only area that had previously been a strength where Temple had miscues. In the first half, Temple missed an extra point, so when Duke scored its fourth touchdown and made the extra-point attempt, the Blue Devils took a one-point lead instead of tied the game.

Then, late in the third quarter with Temple trailing by 15 points, interim coach Ed Foley called for a fake punt at the Owls’ 30-yard line.

Temple’s special teams unit has been strong for the majority of the season, scoring off returns and fake kicks. Against the University of Maryland, redshirt-sophomore quarterback Todd Centeio took a direct snap, rolled to his right and hit redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Freddie Johnson for a touchdown.

On Thursday, Centeio was ready for a direct snap, but instead, the snap missed him 5 yards to the left and went over redshirt-senior fullback Rob Ritrovato’s head, forcing redshirt-freshman punter Conner Bowler to recover the ball at the Owls’ 10-yard line.

The Blue Devils regained the ball needing to drive 10 yards to take a three-possession lead. Three plays later, Duke redshirt-sophomore running back Brittain Brown scored a 4-yard rushing touchdown to put the game out of the Owls’ reach.

Brown’s touchdown was the sixth in the midst of Duke’s streak of seven consecutive touchdown drives.

“We’ve been making plays on special teams all year,” Foley said. “I went to the well with the fake punt, and we didn’t execute it and that just gave them another score so really that was the turnaround right there.”

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