Redshirt-junior quarterback Connor Reilly was impressed with the determination of Houston’s defense.
“The Houston defense, I think, played a great job,” Reilly said. “From last week to this week, they played a little more hungry than the Notre Dame defense did.”
Houston (2-0, 1-0 American Athletic Conference) is known for its high-powered offense, but the Cougars’ defense was the unit that made the difference in Temple’s 22-13 loss on Saturday, Sept. 7 at Lincoln Financial Field. Temple (0-2, 0-1 The American) gained 300 yards on offense, which is the least Houston has given up in a single game since a 2011 match with Southern Methodist.
“I’m proud of our defense,” Houston coach Tony Levine said. “For our guys defensively to go out there and hold them to zero points in the last 30 minutes was big for our confidence.”
Temple’s offensive line did not play as well against Houston as they did against Notre Dame. The Irish were held to one sack and two tackles for losses, while the Cougars had three sacks and four tackles for loss. Reilly took a few hard hits, including one where he injured his knee and had to come out for a short time.
“I’m fine,” Reilly said. “Just a little tape and aspirin, and I’ll be alright.”
“They didn’t compete, at times, enough to protect him,” coach Matt Rhule said. “That’s what happens when you get down late and you have to throw it. He took some shots at the end. Some of them, he has to be smart about, get the ball out of his hand … Today, we took a fumble because we were trying to make a play. You try to make a play, you usually end up making a play for the other team. You just play, and it ends up working out alright.”
Reilly threw two interceptions, one being on the first play from scrimmage that was caught by senior cornerback Zach McMillian. The second was on the Owls’ second to last drive and was returned 40 yards by sophomore safety Adrian McDonald.
“It was a good read on my part that I think the [defensive back] made a great play,” Reilly said of his first interception. “It essentially became a punt because of how far it went down the field. I have to throw a better ball. Less air, more of a strike.”
“The second interception, that’s me panicking, forcing the ball where it shouldn’t,” Reilly added. “That’s at the end of the game, we’re trying to get the ball downfield, trying to press, trying to score. But there’s no excuse. Can’t have turnovers like that. That’s a play where a veteran quarterback would just throw it away.”
The kicking problems have left points on the board in both of Temple’s games this season. The Owls have attempted three field goal kicks this season, missing all of them. They have also missed two extra points. Freshman kicker Jim Cooper, named the starter after training camp, has not made a kick in his collegiate career. After Cooper missed an extra point attempt on Saturday, senior punter Paul Layton was brought in to placekick for the rest of the game.
“[Layton] hasn’t really felt comfortable kicking, but he’s stepped it up this week and did some kicking,” Rhule said. “I wanted to give Coop a chance. He’s been kicking well all week … It wasn’t even a bad kick, he just felt in his head he just didn’t have it.”
“In preseason, I did placekick for about a week,” Layton said. “It kind of messed up my punting motion a little bit, so I talked to the coaches and we decided to stick with punting for myself. We didn’t have a huge discussion about it this week. I kicked a few [field goals], probably three or four. It really wasn’t discussed, but before that extra point they told me I was going in to kick.”
Besides Cooper and Layton, the Owls have two kicker/punters on the roster: freshman Nick Visco and sophomore Tyler Mayes. Visco was in a battle with Cooper for the kicking job until late in training camp, so it’s possible he’ll get a shot soon.
“We should put it in the end zone anyway,” senior wide receiver Ryan Alderman said. “Obviously, that’s our first goal. The kickers will get it right. We have a lot of faith in them.”
While Division I-AA Fordham will likely be the underdog on Saturday, Temple will have plenty of issues that need to be figured out.
“I just felt overall as an offense they weren’t in-sync enough during the day,” Rhule said. “I feel like [offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield] gave them a chance to be in rhythm, even with the ball coming out of the end zone at the end at the one yard line. We just knocked it right out of there. Get the ball moving, but we just couldn’t put enough plays together. That will come with time.”
Evan Cross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EvanCross.