Temple Owls

Temple-No. 15 UCF observations: Owls crushed by visiting Knights

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Temple-No. 15 UCF observations: Owls crushed by visiting Knights

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For the first 18:35 of Saturday afternoon’s Senior Day game at the cloud-covered Lincoln Financial Field, Temple had a pulse that was beating proudly. Here were the underdog Owls, leading UCF, the No. 15 team in the nation, 10-7, and punching away at the Knights’ undefeated record.
 
Then the highest-scoring offense in the entire country caught fire and flatlined any pulse the Owls had.
 
UCF, which came into the contest averaging 48.6 points, reeled off 24 straight points at the end of the first-half and proceeded to blow away the Owls, 45-19.
 
The loss dropped Temple to 5-6 on the season and leaves bowl eligibility hanging in the balance with next week’s game at Tulsa. While bowls can select teams with less than six wins, they may be more inclined to select teams with more prominent names and from more prominent conferences.
 
Conference-leading UCF is now 10-0 on the season and has lined itself up as the likely “Group of 5” participant in this year’s New Year’s Six bowls.
 
And UCF asserted dominance quickly and surgically Saturday at Temple’s expense.
 
• The overwhelming theme of Temple’s lackluster season has been mediocre (some may say that’s even too polite a term) quarterback play. It started with redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi, who had his moments, but ultimately couldn’t keep the job. The reins went to redshirt junior Frank Nutile, who stabilized the position for two weeks in wins over Navy and Cincinnati.

UCF crumpled up that stability and chucked it out onto I-95 Saturday. Nutile endured an ugly afternoon that saw him go 17 for 40 for 201 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. His two first-half picks deep in his own territory were backbreakers that enabled the high-powered Knights offense to get on the fast lane to the end zone against an overmatched Temple defense. His second-quarter pick into triple coverage to UCF’s Kyle Gibson was just ugly. There was nothing but white jerseys around.
 
Combine those picks with Ryquell Armstead’s fumble deep in his own territory in the first half and it was a recipe for disaster that buried Temple’s upset chances. You can’t turn the ball over three times that deep against the No. 15 team in the land and hope the defense can hold the levee together.
 
If the Owls wanted any chance of pulling the upset Saturday, they had to play as pristine a game as possible. Instead, the stains were aplenty. Hence the final score.

• UCF star linebacker Shaqueem Griffin is a fantastic player and an even more amazing story of human perseverance.

Born with a birth defect that caused severe, burning pain in his left hand, Griffin had that hand amputated when he was 4 years old. But his dream of playing football never wavered and he’s worked his way to being one of the premier defensive players in the country.

The 2016 AAC Defensive Player of the Year, Griffin was all over the field Saturday with three tackles, a forced fumble and his second career interception. The pick would have been an excellent play for someone with two hands, let alone a one-handed player as Griffin tracked a Temple receiver down the field and made an over-the-shoulder snag and then returned it for 22 yards.

Next stop: the NFL. What a story. What a player.

• While Temple’s offensive effort was ugly, the Owls’ defense, while having its back against the wall more often than it should have, didn’t have many answers Saturday.

Sure, it’s always going to be a monumental task against the most powerful offense in the country. But the Owls’ defense was battered by UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton and crew. Milton went 16 for 23 for 208 yards and four TDs. He also rushed for 23 yards and a TD. At one point in the second quarter, Milton rushed untouched up the gut for 15 yards on 3rd-and-13. It signified the issues with the Owls’ defense as not a single Owl was in Milton’s zip code.  Milton dazzled while the Temple defense fizzled.

• Random take of the day: Temple’s black helmets, black jerseys and cherry pants look are sharp. Really sharp. Sorry, traditionalists.

• There were two bright spots for Temple on a figuratively and literally dark day.

Senior Adonis Jennings hauled in two balls for 88 yards, including a 74-yard TD pass in the third quarter. It was the Owls’ longest play from scrimmage this season.

Redshirt junior running back David Hood, who was awarded the No. 1 jersey this week by his teammates, a weekly rotating reward for toughness and leadership, carried the ball 12 times for 81 yards, including a hard-nosed 33-yard gain down the sideline in the second quarter when he shrugged off tacklers left and right. He made the most of his touches as the Owls’ featured back Saturday. Don’t be surprised to see him featured again next week.

• With a game that was basically over by halftime, a highlight of the second half was the fan “Flex Cam” that had Hulk Hogan’s “Real American” theme music playing in the background. That brought perhaps the biggest cheers from the announced crowd of 25,877.

• Next week’s season finale at 2-9 Tulsa is no gimmie, by any means, for Temple. It’s always tough for a young team like the Owls to travel halfway across the country, even more so with the pressure of bowl eligibility lingering overhead.  But the Golden Hurricane hung tough at South Florida this past Thursday, losing only by a 27-20 margin in the same environment Temple fell by 36 points earlier in the year. And Tulsa features senior running back D’Angelo Brewer, the conference’s leader in rush yards for a tailback with 126.2 yards per game (Navy QB Zach Abey leads the conference in rushing per game with 150.2 yards) and 1,262 total rushing yards. A challenge looms for a Temple defense that will still be licking its wounds.

Temple's NCAA tourney hopes take a crushing blow

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Temple's NCAA tourney hopes take a crushing blow

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Whether it was simply coachspeak or the dawning realization that his team now has only one entry point into the NCAA Tournament, Fran Dunphy made a short but forceful declaration following Temple’s 80-59 loss to Houston on Sunday.

“We’ve got to win every game we play from here on in,” the Owls head coach said. “That’s the only thing we can do.”

Indeed, at this point, anything short of a perfect run through the American Athletic Conference tournament — which begins on March 8th following the Owls’ final three regular-season games — will likely relegate Temple to the NIT or worse.

The Cougars (21-5, 11-3 American) made sure of that by completely dominating the Owls (15-12 7-8) on their home court to suck the life out of the Liacouras Center — and Temple’s fading NCAA hopes.

“We never let them breathe,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. 

Houston has now won five straight to join nationally ranked Wichita State and Cincinnati atop the conference, making it increasingly likely that only those three squads will represent the American at the Big Dance. 

Temple, despite a conference record hovering around .500, had been making a nice push to join the party thanks to a potent strength of schedule, a couple of impressive November non-conference wins over Auburn and Clemson, and a recent five-game winning streak that included an overtime upset of Wichita State.

But after losing to the Shockers in a rematch on Thursday, the Owls likely needed to win out and then win at least a couple of more games in the AAC tournament to have a realistic shot of an at-large NCAA berth.

Houston ruined that by scoring the game’s first 15 points and never taking its foot off the gas from there en route to Sunday’s lopsided win.

“I think we came out really flat,” said Nate Pierre-Louis, who led the Owls with 13 points after watching the poor start from the bench. “I think we came out underestimating them. And they came out guns blazing, making everything. If we want to push forward, we can’t start out like that at all.”

Dunphy, who could be feeling some heat if Temple misses the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years, had a hard time explaining what went wrong. But he didn’t make excuses, whether it was the team having trouble with its charter flight leaving Wichita (“You figure it out, suck it up and do a better job”) or bouncing back in general from an emotionally draining game there (“[Houston] had a great win at home against Cincinnati, so they were probably more susceptible to a letdown than we were”).

He also didn’t hide from the fact that there wasn’t enough effort from his players.

“We were a step slow all day long,” Dunphy said. “We had decent rest, we worked hard enough, [assistant coach] Chris Clark had us very well prepared for the x-and-o piece. We were just slow all day.”

In no way was that more magnified than in Houston’s 53-22 rebounding advantage, including a 17-5 edge on the offensive end. The Cougars' 53 rebounds matched a Liacouras Center record.

When asked about that, Sampson pointed out that he recently learned his team was among the shortest in the nation. Clearly, though, their hunger makes up for that fact.

“I guess we’re short but it never crossed my mind that it mattered,” the Houston coach said. “What’s that old saying? If size were important, what happened to the dinosaurs?”

Dunphy had a less philosophical (and probably more scientifically accurate) approach to the rebounding discrepancy.

“We were just not disciplined enough on the rebounding side,” the Temple coach said. “They played very well, and obviously we didn’t play very well at all.”

Sadly for Temple fans, the Owls have had a few games this year when they didn’t play well. They’ve also had games where they’ve looked like world-beaters, making this a particularly maddening season.

So whether the Owls close the regular season strong and make a run in the conference tournament or crash out in the first round is anyone’s guess, really. But even after Sunday’s brutal loss, sophomore Quinton Rose forecasted some optimism as the up-and-down 2017-18 campaign winds down.

“I think we’re at our best when we have our backs against the wall,” said Rose, who scored 13 on Sunday. “So I have no doubt we can make a good run."

Temple flops in biggest game of season

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Temple flops in biggest game of season

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In its biggest game of the season, Temple had its biggest flop.

With their NCAA Tournament at-large hopes dangling over a precipice, the Owls were smoked by visiting Houston, 80-59, on Sunday at the Liacouras Center.

Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis scored 13 points apiece for Temple (15-12, 7-8 American), which had won seven of its last nine coming in with the only losses in that stretch to nationally ranked teams (Wichita State, Cincinnati) on the road.

Corey Davis Jr. had a game-high 20 points for Houston (21-5, 11-3), which has now won five straight, including a massive win over No. 5 Cincinnati on Thursday, and is challenging the Bearcats and Shockers for the league title.

• It sounds cliché but Houston just seemed to want it more, outhustling Temple to loose balls and dominating on the glass by a ridiculous 53-22 margin. Not surprisingly, there were smatterings of boos from Temple fans when the final horn sounded.

• Considering the urgency of the game, Temple was very flat from the start with Houston’s Davis hitting two tough three-pointers to spark an 8-0 start for the visitors.

• The Cougars built their lead to 15-0 as Temple fans, standing until the Owls scored their first basket, grew impatient and implored head coach Fran Dunphy to change the lineup.

• Finally, Temple got on the scoreboard when Obi Enechionyia threw down a big dunk with 13:36 left in the first half. But fittingly, Davis hit a jumper just moments later and the red-hot Cougars kept their foot on the gas to increase their lead to 34-11 with 7:30 left.

• Houston led by a staggering 24 points at the final media timeout of the first half and took a 21-point lead into halftime after an Enechionyia three-pointer in the final seconds.

• Temple shot 31 percent in the first half, and it seemed even uglier with several of the Owls’ shots missing the rim entirely.

• The biggest first-half difference was rebounding as Houston held a 31-9 advantage and an 11-1 edge on the offensive boards. On one especially excruciating possession for Temple, Houston got a couple of offensive rebounds before Davis drilled a three right in front of the Temple bench.

• With Temple showing a little more life to start the second half, the Cougars promptly sucked it back out of them with star senior Rob Gray hitting a big three to put them up 47-24 with 16 minutes left.

• With 13 minutes left, the Cougars had doubled up Temple’s score (54-27), and then went ahead 59-27 on Davis’ sixth three-pointer of the game. Temple fans had very little cheer for from there. Houston’s a good team but it’s not easy to explain how the surging Owls could lose a game this badly to anyone at home.

• Houston actually had far more turnovers than Temple, 17-10.

• Temple lost at Houston, 76-73, back in December, and is now 2-7 all-time vs. the Cougars, including a 1-4 mark in Philadelphia.

• Houston is chasing just its second NCAA Tournament berth since 1992 and its first since 2010. The Owls, meanwhile, are in danger of missing two straight Big Dances for just the second time since Fran Dunphy took over in 2006. Thanks in large part to a great strength of schedule and their recent hot streak, the Owls were on Joe Lunardi’s “Next Four Out” in ESPN’s bracketology but this loss — and a sub-.500 conference mark — will certainly drop them even further off the bubble.

• The best celebration of the day came in honor of Hooter the Owl’s birthday, with mascots from around the city coming to the Liacouras Center to pay their respects. But those vibes didn’t extend to the game as Temple dropped to 12-1 all-time on its mascot’s birthday.

• Temple plays its final home game next Sunday vs. UCF before closing the regular season with road games at UConn and Tulsa. But even if they win out, the Owls still likely need to win the American Athletic Conference tournament to get into the NCAAs.