Temple Owls

Temple's bowl eligibility hangs in balance after deflating loss to No. 15 UCF

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Temple's bowl eligibility hangs in balance after deflating loss to No. 15 UCF

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The deflated tone of Geoff Collins voice and the stone-cold look on his face dimly painted the darkened picture of what his Temple team had just endured for most of the previous three hours.

A cherry-and-white Senior Day underdog story just had its fruitful initial chapters dissected and jammed into the paper shredder by an overwhelming force of football nature.

“That was a tough loss and we didn’t send the seniors out the way we wanted to,” Collins said.

“Tough” is just one way to describe the shellacking Temple absorbed at the hands at No. 15 and conference powerhouse UCF, as a 10-7 second-quarter lead evaporated into an ugly 45-19 defeat at cloud-covered Lincoln Financial Field (see observations).

The loss dropped the Owls to 5-6 on the season and leaves bowl eligibility hanging in the balance during next week’s trip to Tulsa.

UCF, on the other hand, improved to a perfect 10-0 on the season and tightened its grip on the “Group of 5” berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

“That was just a tough loss against a really good football team,” Collins said. “You can’t turn the ball over five times and expect to win games, especially against a team that is that good and very talented offensively, obviously. “

The Knights came into South Philly sporting the highest-scoring offense in the entire nation with an average of 48.6 points, presenting a challenge the Owls knew would be formidable.

But for the first 18:35 of the contest, the Owls answered every bell. They had a 10-7 advantage thanks to a nifty scramble by redshirt junior quarterback Frank Nutile, who found space and floated a perfect ball to senior wideout Keith Kirkwood in the back of the end zone.

But from there, the Temple upset wagon plummeted off the cliff as the Knights and their turbo-charged offense caught fire.

Thanks in large part to three Temple turnovers — two Nutile picks and a Ryquell Armstead fumble — deep in Owls territory, the Knights reeled off 24 points in a span of 9:11 to take a commanding 31-10 lead that silenced Temple’s pulse.

Nutile’s two picks in that span were ugly, especially the second one, which was thrown into triple coverage and easily picked off by UCF’s linebacker Kyle Gibson.

Nutile, who would go on to throw two more picks in the second half and four total in the game, was extremely hard on himself afterward as Temple’s overwhelming theme of mediocre QB play throughout the season lingered on.

“I just think I made a lot of mistakes and bad decisions with the ball. It’s very uncharacteristic of me,” said Nutile, who took over as the starter two weeks ago against Navy and entered Saturday’s contest with just three interceptions on 103 attempts as compared to six TDs.

“Obviously, I put the team in a bad situation. I put the defense in a bad situation. I didn’t play great today. It’s hard to win a game when the quarterback throws four interceptions. … I take that loss totally on me.

“I’d rather die than let those seniors down like that again.”

Nutile’s mistakes set Temple’s defense on a platter for UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton and crew.

Milton whitewashed the Owls for 208 yards on 16 completions and four touchdowns. He also ran for 23 yards and another score for a combined five TDs on the day. Not that it was put in the best situations, but the overwhelmed Temple defense just didn’t have an answer.

While Nutile professed his apologies to the team in the locker room, Collins lamented on the fatefully miserable second quarter that saw Temple get outgained 122 yards to 57 yards when asked if it was the turning point.

“I think that’s pretty easy to say, yeah,” Collins said.

“Looking into [the seniors’] eyes before the game, how much hope and how much excitement they had and then conversely at the end, the hurt and the pain — I just told them to take their time. No one should be in a rush to get out of that locker room.”

As painful as Saturday may have been, there is still a glimmer of sunshine as the Owls can gain the bowl eligibility they’ve been yearning for with a win next week at 2-9 Tulsa. The Owls could still be selected for a bowl game with only five wins, but a bowl is more likely to select a five-win team with more of a pedigree and from a bigger conference.

Of course, there is a chance even a sixth win could get the Owls nowhere. Remember the 6-6 team from 2014 that was left heartbroken with no bowl invite?

Despite a 2-9 record, Tulsa is no gimmie for Temple. The Golden Hurricanes feature senior running back D’Angelo Brewer, the conference’s leader in rush yards for a tailback with 126.2 yards per game and 1,262 total rushing yards. And Tulsa just hung tough at South Florida last week, losing only by a 27-20 decision.

The Owls say the page has already been turned to Tulsa and they know what’s at stake.

“We just want to go out on a good note,” senior safety Sean Chandler said.  “We definitely want to get to a bowl game.

“This week is going to be my last game. But most importantly, we want to get to the bowl game and send each other out on a good note.”

“Every week, we talk about going 1-0 every week. That never changes,” Collins said.

“I think everybody knows what’s on the line for next Saturday. So we aren’t trying to make it bigger than that. “

Seniors say goodbye
Saturday marked the last home game for a studded senior class that includes Chandler, DE Sharif Finch, DB Artrel Foster, WR Adonis Jennings, WR Keith Kirkwood, DL Jacob Martin, FB Nick Sharga and DL Julian Taylor.

One more win will give this group of seniors 32 wins, which would be the most for a class in school history.

One-handed wonder
UCF star linebacker Shaqueem Griffin is an incredible story of perseverance and triumph.

Born with a painful defect that left burning sensations shooting through his left hand, Griffin had that hand amputated when he was 4 years old. But he never gave up on his football dream and overcame all obstacles to become one of the premier defensive players in the nation.

He starred on Saturday with three tackles, a forced fumble and a beautiful over-the-shoulder interception.

An amazing talent and story.

Shizz Alston Jr., Quinton Rose lead Temple over St. Joe's in Big 5 battle

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Shizz Alston Jr., Quinton Rose lead Temple over St. Joe's in Big 5 battle

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With five minutes and 22 seconds left in the first half and Temple trailing St. Joe’s, 26-24, De’Vondre Perry took a three-pointer that hit the back iron and missed long.

Out of nowhere, Quinton Rose streaked down the center of the free throw lane, leaped above everyone on the floor, corralled the offensive rebound and completed the two-handed slam to tie the game, prompting an eruption from the Liacouras Center crowd.

“That’s just how [Quinton] plays,” Shizz Alston Jr. said. “When guys start jawing at him he just turns it up a notch. I think some of their players were talking to him and he just got juiced up off of that.”

The play energized the Owls after a slow start, highlighting a 17-3 run to end the half and leading to an 81-78 Temple victory (see observations). Alston Jr. led all scorers with 20 points, including five three-pointers, and Rose added a 15 point, 11 rebound double-double for the squad.

At the start of the game, St. Joe’s came out hot, hitting on three of their first five three-point attempts and jumping out to a 17-8 lead early in the game. After a Fran Dunphy timeout with just less than 13 minutes left in the half, the Owls seemed to tighten up defensively.

“He just told us we had to pick it up,” Rose said. “It’s simple as that.

"I think we had a lack of communication and the biggest thing is we don’t finish our possessions with rebounds. We give up a lot of second-chance points. We just have to straighten that up and I think we’ll be good.”

Obi Enechionyia and Rose came up with big blocks and Temple started forcing turnovers. This helped the offense get going, in particular, Alston, whose 15 first-half points kept Temple in the ball game despite the hot shooting start by St. Joe's.

Perry, a true freshman, provided a spark off the bench for the Owls, contributing nine points in the first half, including two threes and a tough finish at the rim.

“He showed a lot of toughness,” Rose said. “I mean he’s young, but he showed a lot of toughness on the defensive end and rebounding. He made some big shots for us too.”

Perry attributed a lot of the open looks he got to his teammates.

“My teammates opened it up for me,” Perry said. “Either driving or kicking or just doing what they do best by penetrating and giving me the ball.”

Temple’s star big man, Enechionyia, struggled throughout the game, going 1 for 8 from the field and finishing with four points while being limited to 23 minutes because of foul trouble. Center Ernest Aflakpui came up big in his absence, putting up 12 points on 5 for 6 from the field and adding six rebounds.

“If we can count on a dozen points from Ern every game, that would be spectacular,” Dunphy said. “It’s obviously not his forte, but he did a terrific job. I thought he was poised at the rim and didn’t rush himself.”

In the last five minutes, the Hawks rallied from 16 down and cut the lead to four, but five clutch free throws from fifth-year senior guard Josh Brown sealed Temple’s first Big 5 and Atlantic-10 win of the year.

“I thought Josh Brown saved us at the foul line,” head coach Fran Dunphy said. “I thought he played great again. He played great against Wisconsin and played great again. I’m very, very proud of him.”

The Owls, now 6-2 on the season, will host the No. 4-ranked Villanova Wildcats, who could jump to No. 1 in the country after Duke’s loss Saturday, in another Big 5 showdown this Wednesday at the Liacouras Center.

“It’s a really big opportunity,” Rose said. “I hope they are No. 1 so we can knock them off.”

Temple-St. Joe's observations: Owls hold off late rally

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Temple-St. Joe's observations: Owls hold off late rally

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Temple on Saturday afternoon nabbed its first win against a Big 5 team and an Atlantic 10 team with an 81-78 victory over St. Joe’s at the Liacouras Center.

With five clutch free throws from fifth-year senior guard Josh Brown, the Owls held off a late rally by the Hawks. Shizz Alston Jr. led the Owls with 20 points and four rebounds, while Quinton Rose added a double-double with 15 points and 11 boards.

Temple moves to 6-2 on the season with the victory.

• St. Joe’s was on fire early on, making three of its first five three-point attempts, en route to a 17-8 lead just over seven minutes into the game.

• After a Fran Dunphy timeout with 12:44 left in the first half, Temple turned up its effort on defense. Big blocks by Rose and Obi Enechionyia allowed Temple to take the lead, 18-17, with 9:30 left in the half. The Owls forced a total of eight turnovers in the first half.

• Alston, Jr. dominated the first half and really kept the Owls in the game during St. Joe’s early run. He went 5 for 8 from the field in the first half, including 4 of 5 from three-point range, for 15 points. The junior guard has developed tremendously since last season, coming into this contest averaging 16.9 points, which is up from 13.9 points per game last year in his sophomore campaign.

• Enechionyia struggled in the first half, going 1 for 6 from the field in 17 minutes of action. He missed multiple fadeaway jumpers on the baseline and didn’t make an impact in the post. He also picked up his third foul less than a minute into the second half and had to go to the bench. The senior power forward finished the afternoon with just four points and six rebounds.

• Junior center Ernest Aflakpui filled in tremendously with Enechionyia on the bench. He scored 12 points while shooting 83 percent from the field, added six rebounds and disrupted shots around the rim.

• De’Vondre Perry also played a big role for Temple, putting up nine points, 6.9 points more than his season average, in 21 minutes of action, which is up from his season average of 12.3 minutes per game. The true freshman did it in a variety of ways as well, driving and finishing at the basket, drawing fouls and adding two three-pointers. Perry was the only freshman to play in the game.

• Rose displayed his incredible athleticism with multiple big plays in the first half. The sophomore guard slashed through the lane and made a contested layup to put Temple up 18-17, and then followed a Perry missed three-pointer with a put-back dunk that caused the crowd to erupt. He also missed a few layups during the game, showing he still can refine his touch around the basket, but finished the game with 15 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.

• The student section was involved throughout the game, bringing out big-head posters during opponents’ free throws, making noise after airballs and erupting after multiple big Rose dunks. In Temple’s second Big 5 game of the year, the Owls fans needed to out-do the St. Joe’s fans who traveled to North Philly, and they certainly did.

• The win marks Temple’s first Big 5 victory of the year, almost two weeks after its 87-83 road loss to La Salle. It was a physical matchup that seemed like it would get chippy. Rose got into a St. Joe’s player’s face after a layup in the first half. Enechionyia was elbowed in the face while going up for a rebound at the end of the first half. Temple was the more physical, scrappy team Saturday, but will need to be better this Wednesday against another Big 5 team, No. 4 Villanova.

The Hawks return to action next Sunday when they host Maine.