For a team that seemed to be on the rise, Temple’s performance in the first half against West Virginia this past Saturday was both unexpected and embarrassing.
In what could be considered one of the worst losses during coach Bobby Wallace’s tenure here, the first half told the whole story as the Owls fell behind by an insurmountable 33 points en route to a 46-20 loss at Veterans Stadium.
The abysmal first half made the second half a mere afterthought.
Adding insult to injury, the Mountaineer faithful almost outnumbered those pulling for the Cherry and White, who witnessed the Owls (3-6, 1-3) put on a display of how to lose a football game in a rapid manner.
Eight minutes had passed, and the Owls were already behind 14-0.
They had run but a single offensive play, which had been a lost fumble.
By the end of the first quarter, the Owls had run just 10 plays for a meager two yards.
Quarterback Mike McGann completed just one pass, but that was to Mountaineer free safety Jahmile Addae.
A crestfallen Wallace took the blame for the ignominious showing.
“I’m embarrassed at the job I did,” he said.
“I never dreamed that we would have that kind of a first quarter.”
Wallace placed the blame on himself, but Temple’s careless play and lack of execution is what really cost them the football game.
Wallace put his players in position to challenge the Mountaineers, and they failed him.
Moreover, the Owls may have been a little rusty due to abbreviated practice sessions caused by incessant rainfall.
Freshman wide receiver Sean Szarka’s fumble on Temple’s first play from scrimmage gave the Mountaineers (6-3, 3-1) the ball and a lot of momentum.
On the Owls third drive of the game, trailing by 14, McGann tried passing downfield but threw an interception that his intended receiver was not even looking for.
Wallace tried to shake things up in the second quarter when he replaced McGann at quarterback with Mike Frost.
“I thought it might be good for him [McGann]to sit on the sideline and watch a series or two,” Wallace said.
“I thought it may be good to give him [Frost] an opportunity. I had never done it before and I wish I didn’t now.”
The result: Frost’s second pass was thrown right into the arms of Mountaineer linebacker Grant Wiley.
After the defense made a goal line stand, the Owls were pinned at the one-yard line.
Frost’s second and final series ended with another giveaway when he fumbled the ball and it was recovered in the end zone by center Donny Klein for a safety.
The ensuing Mountaineer drive again came with a short field to work with, and Rasheed Marshall scampered off right tackle for 28-yard score.
McGann was quickly put back in, but kept forcing his throws into double and triple coverage.
When they weren’t turning the ball over, Temple was shooting itself in the foot with careless penalties on both sides of the ball, including three for offsides.
The Owls’ defense had the unenviable task of defending a short field.
After the Mountaineers opened the game with a 13-play, 81-yard drive, their next three scoring drives amassed a combined 79 yards.
Coming into this game, the Owls had been playing some of their best football of recent memory, and thoughts of a possible .500 season were in the minds of Temple fans.
Throughout they had managed to stay in almost every game, suffering all their defeats to potential bowl teams.
The week before at third-ranked Virginia Tech, Temple stymied the number one rushing attack in the nation, but lost 20-10.
Against the Mountaineers, the Owls managed to limit Big East record-breaking running back Avon Cobourne to under 100 yards for the first time in six games, and a 3.2 yards per carry average on 29 touches.
However, West Virginia still rolled up 230 yards on the ground.
Conversely, Owls running back and their only playmaker, Tanardo Sharps, totaled a paltry 30 yards on 17 carries.
Wallace shifted his strategy of using Sharps to open up the passing game with the opposite approach.
“The way they [West Virginia] play their defense, we’ve got to be able to throw the football,” Wallace said.
“Tanardo is a key to our offense…but we felt like in this game we could throw the ball and get him going.”
Coming into this game, Wallace felt good about the team.
That’s why he seemed disillusioned by the Owls’ languid play.
By Tuesday’s weekly press conference, Wallace was still holding himself accountable, but he couldn’t help but voice his displeasure with McGann’s play.
In reference to McGann’s egregious first half, Wallace said, “You can’t play scared.
And you can’t play dumb.
You got to play smart.
If you’re scared to throw the football, then you’ve got no chance.”
The final Owl drive of Saturday’s first half was futile, as McGann was tagged for an intentional grounding penalty, cutting off any possibility of scoring before intermission.
By this time, the mood of the Vet had resembled a mausoleum, and the idea of another half to play seemed entirely moot.
Jason S. Haslam can be reached at Jasonhaslam@yahoo.com.