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.