EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Temple found itself in familiar territory on a different surface Friday night.
The Owls marched to a three-possession lead at halftime in last year’s American Athletic Conference matchup with the University of Connecticut, before surrendering 28 unanswered points in the second half en route to a seven-point defeat at Lincoln Financial Field.
Sporting a four-possession lead midway through the third quarter of its American Athletic Conference opener Friday night, Temple held on to its inflated advantage at UConn’s Rentschler Field in a 36-10 rout.
A defensive touchdown, a safety and a pair of scores for sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker (one passing, one rushing) gave the Owls (3-1, 1-0 The American) 23 points in the third quarter and a 20-point lead heading into the final quarter. A pair of field goals for freshman Austin Jones, the first a 47-yard kick, iced the scoring.
“We’re happy to get out of here with a win,” coach Matt Rhule said. “We played these guys five games ago, we collapsed in the second half and I thought [we] bought into playing the whole four quarters of football, at least tonight.”
After a first half in which Walker said he came out flat, the sophomore tossed a 42-yard touchdown pass to senior Jalen Fitzpatrick that opened the third-quarter scoring, before scrambling up the middle one yard for a rushing score Temple’s next possession.
He was 6-of-10 passing with 23 yards in the first half, and failed to complete a pass greater than seven yards. By the end of the contest, Walker finished on 20-of-29 passing with 231 yards and the touchdown strike to Fitzpatrick.
“I didn’t see [Walker] pressing,” Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t think he’s started 10 games yet. I think people put so much on his shoulders. It doesn’t affect him, but it affects people views of him. But I think he’s been playing good. I don’t think it was him, I think we just all made some adjustments in the second half.”
Any adjustments offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield’s offense made showed in the second half, as the offense amassed 241 of its 272 total yards in the period. Walker’s arm amounted for 208 of them, while he averaged 11.75 yards per pass completion.
“[The difference] was to go out there and get comfortable,” Walker said. “Stop playing so tense. I’ve been playing tense for the past few games. Today was good. I needed to go out there and play like myself and execute. … We did a great job in the second half, playing fast and playing physical.”
Fitzpatrick caught six passes for 108 yards, all in the second half, and caught his fourth touchdown reception in as many games.
Aside from his 42-yard touchdown grab, his receptions included passes of 21 and 22 yards, respectively, in a third quarter in which Temple’s passing game helped open up the contest.
“Jalen is Jalen,” Walker said. “Jalen will run great routes and he’ll get open with his speed. Whenever you throw the ball to Jalen, he’ll go get it and pick up some extra yards.
Temple’s defense amounted for 16 of the Owls’ 36 points, and got its kickstart from junior Tavon Young, who intercepted UConn redshirt senior quarterback Chandler Witmer roughly nine minutes into the contest and ran the ball back 93 yards to open the scoring.
Freshman defensive back Sean Chandler forced the unit’s next score, forcing a Witmer fumble returned by redshirt junior Praise Martin-Oguike 11 yards into the end zone to give the Owls a 28-3 cushion in the third quarter.
“It’s just all a process, man,” Young said. “When we come in the locker room at halftime, we regroup. We make sure we all make adjustments and do what we need to do to keep going and play all four quarters.”
UConn totaled 133 rushing yards as opposed to Temple’s 41, with Walker leading the Owls with his 24 yards on the ground … Redshirt sophomore Romond Deloatch caught three passes for 58 yards. He totaled two receptions for nine yards through Temple’s first three games … Redshirt sophomore Khalif Herbin muffed two punts and lost a fumble on one of them. He fumbled a kickoff just before halftime in which UConn recovered in the end zone, but the play was called back due to an offside call on the Huskies.