If there ever were a script for how to lose a football game, the Owls have followed it expertly.
For the second straight week the Owls squandered opportunities, this time in a 16-6 loss to Rutgers on Saturday.
Kicker Ryan Lux, who was brought in to cure the team’s kicking ills, rehashed old memories of last season when the Owls could have pulled out a close game, only to see a field goal sail wide or fall short.
“We ended up missing a few field goals and botched one, and it ended up hurting us,” coach Bobby Wallace said. “That was probably the most critical thing. It would have kept us in the game there in the end.”
None of the field goal attempts were beyond 40 yards, which made the situation that much more unnerving. In addition, the Owls penetrated inside the Scarlet Knights 30-yard line seven times, but managed only six points.
At one point the Owls were at the Rutgers 15, but three straight penalties cost them their field position, as they ended up punting from midfield.
Mercurial quarterback Walter Washington went 21-of-39 for 219 yards and two interceptions and two fumbles. He also ran 27 times for 67 yards.
All of this came on Rutgers’ Homecoming weekend, as the Owls defense showed an ability to make stops and create turnovers. But following two turnovers by Washington, the defense finally gave out, allowing the Knights to score 10 points in the final seven minutes.
“I feel we all need to play together and be on the same page, because sometimes the kicking game is good, but the defense [is not],” junior linebacker Rian Wallace said. “We’re always missing certain pieces of the puzzle.”
So the sorry saga of this 2004 campaign goes on.
“We put ourselves in the perfect position and it seems like there is nothing we can do to win,” said senior safety Sadeke Konte, who had an interception and a sack. “I don’t know. I don’t understand.”
Konte said the team has improved since the Bowling Green thrashing, which is true. The Owls lost to Pittsburgh last week by five points and were in it until the end at Rutgers.
But like last year, there are still two things the Owls need to improve on: the kicking game and closing out contests.
“I thought we were taking it to them, until the ball goes off our helmet,” said Wallace said in reference to an interception in the fourth quarter. “So I don’t feel that there was any concern as far as we can’t play in the fourth quarter. We’ve just got to do it.”
In the last few years the football program has declined immeasurably, while Rutgers is on the upswing.
Before the 2003 season, the Owls seemed ready to make it to a bowl game after three consecutive four-win seasons. Then they went 1-11, including a bitter loss to Rutgers, which snapped the Knights’ 25-game losing streak against Big East opponents.
That game and Saturday’s loss extended Temple’s futility in the conference. The Owls have now lost 10 straight Big East contests. This was not the type of impression they wanted to make in their final season.
NOT SO SPECIAL
The frustrating part about Lux’s misses was that they were from relatively short distances. Although the winds were swirling most of the afternoon, it doesn’t provide much of an excuse, since Rutgers kicker Jeremy Ito went 3-for-3 from 43, 27, and 25 yards out.
Lux missed one from 32 yards and the other from 30. For the game he went 2-for-4, and a mishandled snap from holder Mike McLaughlin killed another key opportunity for points.
Junior college transfer punter Jake Hendy was used on five of six punts. He struggled with the winds and finished with a 35.8 yards per punt average, although he did direct one that was downed at the Rutgers 1-yard line.
Jason Haslam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.