On his third pass of the game, senior quarterback Phillip Walker tried to squeeze a throw to Marshall Ellick on a slant route across the middle.
The redshirt-sophomore wide receiver hesitated and Southern Methodist sophomore defensive back Jordan Wyatt stepped in to pick the ball off and run all the way to the end zone.
The offense stalled on the Owls’ next drive, but a fumble recovery by redshirt-senior defensive lineman Haason Reddick on the punt coverage team allowed Walker a second chance at redemption.
After Walker hit redshirt-junior wide receiver Keith Kirkwood for 17 yards and a few runs by freshman Isaiah Wright out of the wildcat, senior running back Jahad Thomas ran 15 yards to tie the game. Thomas’ touchdown sparked 35 unanswered points for Temple in Saturday’s 45-20 win against Southern Methodist at Lincoln Financial Field, giving the Owls a 1-0 start in American Athletic Conference play.
“We thought we had a bunch of things we really liked, and the wildcat was one of them, the two back runs and some of the play action,” coach Matt Rhule said. “So the first part didn’t start off [well] in the 11-man personnel stuff, so we went right to the wildcat and the two back stuff and were able to get settled down.”
On Temple’s next offensive possession, Walker floated a 42-yard pass over top of the Mustangs’ defense to redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Ventell Bryant, who returned after being sidelined for the past three games with a shoulder injury.
Two Temple drives later, the Owls started at the Southern Methodist 38-yard line after an interception by redshirt-senior defensive back Nate L. Smith. Walker hit redshirt-senior tight end Romond Deloatch for a 34-yard pass down to the one-yard line, and sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead punched it in, giving Temple a two-touchdown lead.
Armstead ran four times for 55 yards the next time the Owls had the ball, setting Thomas up for a 15-yard touchdown, his sixth touchdown in three games played.
Temple finished off its first half scoring when Reddick, who had four tackles in the game, strip sacked Mustangs’ redshirt-freshman quarterback Ben Hicks, and Deloatch, who was lined up on the defensive line during the play, scooped the ball up with one hand and ran into the end zone.
“I happened to look down and saw the ball right there,” Deloatch said. “I just picked the ball up. It’s something I never practiced or worked on, but I was excited to score and help my team celebrate, and put points on the board.”
Temple’s defense beat up Hicks throughout the contest. The Owls came into Saturday with five sacks in four games. Defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s defense sacked Southern Methodist’s quarterbacks four times, including two by Reddick.
The pressure helped the Owls get two interceptions, and limit the Mustangs’ passing attack to 199 yards and two touchdowns.
Temple’s defense allowed two touchdowns in the contest and held the Mustangs, who came in averaging 448 yards per game, to 288 yards of total offense.
“We stopped the run in this game pretty early,” Rhule said. “They had to drop back and pass and I thought we could have had a lot more [sacks].”
Walker finished 7-of-18 for 124 yards and a touchdown. He tossed two interceptions Saturday and had a potential third turnover dropped by the Southern Methodist defender.
With Thomas and Armstead doing most of the damage, Temple out rushed the Mustangs 244-89. Armstead finished with 15 carries for 159 yards and two touchdowns for his first career 100-yard game.
“Just to know that I am able to play with those backers and get better watching them and being around them, it’s just fun and it’s a good experience,” Wright said.
Owen McCue can be reached at owen.mccue or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.