P.J. Walker re-enacted the Cougars’ greatest nightmare.
Inches away from the goal line, the Owls’ sophomore quarterback fumbled away a chance at the game-tying score, keeping the scoreline at 17-10 in the third quarter.
The Cougars faced a similar fate two weeks before, when their sophomore quarterback, Greg Ward Jr., fumbled the ball inches away from the game-winning touchdown against Central Florida.
Coach Matt Rhule pointed out the emphasis the Temple coaching staff has placed on not jeopardizing the football for the sake of the extra yard.
“We don’t reach the ball on the goal line for a reason,” Rhule said. “Houston learned that the hard way a few weeks ago against UCF. We did some things that are uncharacteristic of our team. One of those was reaching the ball over, and you see what happens. When you do things you are not trained to do, you see what happens. You fumble the ball away.”
Walker’s fumble was one of four turnovers he was responsible for on the night, as he threw three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
Walker’s three interceptions increased his season total up to seven, just one shy of his total during a 2013 season in which he compiled roughly 100 more passing attempts than he has through the first six games of the 2014 season.
Despite the lackluster interception total, Rhule attributed the turnovers as the result of compounding factors.
“I thought the first one, [Houston junior defensive back Trevon Stewart] made a great play on the ball,” Rhule said. “On the second one, [Walker] threw the ball where it was supposed to go, and it was one-on-one down the sideline. [Houston junior defensive back William Jackson] took the ball from [junior receiver Brandon Shippen]. The third one was a tipped ball, probably a little bit high. So one bad decision, one probably on [Shippen], giving him a chance to make a play, and then one was just a bad pass.”
The Owls scored a season-low 10 points, nearly 30 points less than their season average heading into the contest.
Given the way his team played, Rhule said he didn’t expect the game to end as closely as it did.
“We knew that coming in that [committing turnovers] was what couldn’t happen and it happened,” Rhule said. “I’m surprised it was that close, to be quite honest.”
The Owls’ offense sputtered throughout the game, failing to match the Houston attack led by Ward Jr., a converted wide receiver who amassed 268 passing yards and two touchdowns while completing 29 of 33 passes.
Walker, on the other hand, threw for 259 yards, but completed just 41 percent of his passes in a 12-of-29 performance, and threw three interceptions to go with his one touchdown strike.
Walker’s yardage total came primarily from long screen runs by sophomore running back Jahad Thomas, who has started the last two games.
Thomas’ 146 yards on respective screen plays of 72 and 74 yards accounted for 56 percent of Walker’s passing yards.
Thomas said his team came out tense in the first half and struggled as a result.
“In the first half it seemed like everyone was uptight and we weren’t playing our brand, our style of football,” Thomas said. “In the second half we settled down a little bit and started playing our brand. Throughout the whole game we just weren’t playing Temple football.”
“If it wasn’t for the turnovers we definitely would have had a better chance of winning the game, but we still had a shot in the fourth quarter,” Thomas added.
The Owls will remain on the road next Saturday against Central Florida, which edged Tulane 20-13 last Saturday for its fourth win of the season.
EJ Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @ejsmitty17