Yes, the Owls lost to a lower-division team on Saturday for the first time since its 2013 game against Fordham University.
Yes, Temple University didn’t take its first lead until the third quarter against a team it was favored to beat by at least two touchdowns.
And yes, in two weeks Temple will face the University of Maryland that opened its season by upsetting the University of Texas, the No. 23 team in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
But fans shouldn’t panic after the Owls’ 19-17 loss to Football Championship Subdivision school Villanova at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday. A bad beginning doesn’t damn a season from the start.
Junior cornerback Linwood Crump and other players have said their goal is to win the American Athletic Conference. A non-conference FCS loss, though disappointing, doesn’t affect that goal.
Let’s take a trip back to Sept. 3, 2009. Temple started its season by committing five turnovers, blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and watching a game-winning field goal sail through the uprights as time expired at Lincoln Financial Field in a 27-24 loss to Villanova.
The Owls ended the season with a 9-4 record and their first bowl appearance since the 1979 Garden State Bowl.
Plus, Villanova beating Temple isn’t equivalent to when 45-point underdog Howard University beat University of Nevada, Las Vegas last year.
Villanova was a more respectable 15.5-point underdog and is ranked No. 19 in the FCS Coaches Poll. When Temple had a chance for a game-winning drive with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter and the potential for an ending similar to last year’s existed, Villanova felt more confident than in 2017.
“Last year …we weren’t starstruck, but I feel like, it was like kind of our first game going against Temple in a long time, so we weren’t used to them,” Wildcats’ senior left tackle Ethan Greenidge said. “But this year, it felt like they were kind of in our league and we just had to show them like a little rivalry kind of, in a way.”
Although the two teams were on a series hiatus from 2013-16, the Wildcats have played Temple tough in the past. In 2010, the Owls needed a 43-yard field goal from Brandon McManus to beat Villanova. Last year, senior quarterback Zach Bednarczyk threw for a career-high 382 yards and the Wildcats had a chance to make a last-minute comeback in a 16-13 loss.
Bednarczyk and the Wildcats’ offense had a strong encore performance on Saturday, which warrants healthy concern. The Owls got outplayed on offense and defense, particularly at the line of scrimmage.
Temple couldn’t establish a running game. Senior feature back Ryquell Armstead totaled 31 yards on 14 carries. Villanova averaged more than five yards per play and recorded 151 yards rushing.
The Wildcats also converted on second-and-17, first-and-20 and fourth-and-9 situations. On the fourth-and-9 play, Bednarczyk completed a 30-yard touchdown pass for the go-ahead score.
The Wildcats went 8-for-16 on third downs and 3-for-3 on fourth-down attempts.
“You guys know how important money down is,” coach Geoff Collins said. “You know how important third down is to us as an organization, and obviously we could not get that done today.”
Villanova squandered an opportunity to score before the half by failing to spike the ball to stop the clock in time after Bednarczyk took a sack at the Owls’ 21-yard line. The Wildcats also missed a chance to score when redshirt-sophomore defensive lineman Quincy Roche blocked a field goal in the second quarter. Redshirt sophomore Kimere Brown’s 74-yard return was one of Temple’s two touchdowns.
“Statistically, when you look at yards gained and time of possession and those types of things, it probably should have been more than a two-point game,” Villanova coach Mark Ferrante said.
Yet, Temple was still in the game. It took two fourth-quarter interceptions thrown by graduate student quarterback Frank Nutile to cement the Wildcats’ victory.
Moments after the cheering in the locker room ended, Wildcats’ senior linebacker Jeff Steeb, who made one of the two interceptions, was more subdued during a post-game press conference.
“It was a big win, but then again, it’s just the first game,” he said. “So we’re looking forward to Lehigh [University].”
It was just the first game for Temple, too. The Owls have time to correct their mistakes. Surely, they’re looking forward to moving on and facing the University at Buffalo at home on Saturday.