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November 23, 2013

Second-half woes sink Owls yet again

There's a quote from 2000's The Replacements that comes to mind when thinking about the 2013 Temple football team.

When asked what he fears most, Keanu Reeves' Shane Falco character mentions quicksand. When asked further he states, "You're playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can't move. You can't breathe. Because you're in over your head. Like quicksand."

Well, quicksand got a hold of Temple yet again on Saturday as the Owls fell to the winless Connecticut Huskies, 28-21, in the final home game of the season.

In the first half, things were going according to plan for a Temple team that almost beat No. 15 UCF last week. The Owls had jumped out to an early 21-0 lead and had limited the Huskies to just 64 yards of total offense in the first half.

Then, just like time and time before, Temple watched as its lead slowly dwindled away.

That Temple offense that put up 21 points and 271 yards of offense in the first half? Gone. The Owls were limited to just 101 yards and zero points in the second half while quarterback P.J. Walker added an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

That Temple defense that shut UConn out in the first half? Suddenly reverted back to its old self. The Owls gave up 21 points and committed costly penalties in the final 30 minutes.

Instead of cruising to a win on senior night, Temple sank deeper and deeper into that quicksand.

That's been par for the course for Temple in recent weeks. Ever since the Louisville game, in which Temple was blown out by a 30-7 margin, the Owls have led in each contest. And yet they have just one win to show for it. The past three games have been even worse for the Cherry and the White, as they've blown fourth-quarter leads in each game.

"I'd love to be able to tell you [what led to second-half collapses]," Temple coach Matt Rhule said. "I thought we were going to have energy in the second half… We have to teach the players what it takes to win. It doesn't take a lot to win, but you have to have great effort, physicality and to be smart. You have to have the discipline to execute the job at hand."

The Owls showed that effort in the first half. Walker ran for a touchdown while throwing for another to Robby Anderson. Anderson was actually initially stood up at the one-yard line before a tremendous second effort led to his sixth touchdown of the season.

On defense, Abdul Smith recorded the first interception of his career, which set up an 18-yard touchdown run by Zaire Williams. The defense as a whole was on pace for its first shutout since 2011.

So much for that.

A 33-yard touchdown by Geremy Davis on UConn's first drive of the second half put the Huskies right back in the game. Following a four-yard touchdown by Max DeLorenzo, the Huskies faced a first-and-goal from Temple's five-yard line.

Three plays later, it appeared that the Owls may escape the redzone with a lead after UConn quarterback Casey Cochran overthrew Davis on fourth and one. But, yet again, Temple got in its own way. Junior cornerback Anthony Robey was called for pass interference call and gave the Huskies a new set of downs.

"We needed [Robey] to go fight for the ball instead of being hands-on and giving them a second set of downs," Rhule said. "It would have been crucial if we stopped them there."

Cochran would run for a one-yard touchdown a few plays later to tie the game up at 21. It wouldn't stay knotted up for long.

Walker threw his game-altering interception, which was returned for a touchdown by Yawin Smallwood, on the ensuing play. Temple would fail to score on their next drive as well. Just like that, what looked like an easy win ended up being the latest in a series of disappointments for the Owls.

Walker had arguably his worst performance of the season. The true freshman, who threw for four touchdowns last week, completed 26-of-46 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown but also had the costly interception and lost two fumbles. Walker was also sacked five times in the loss.

"I got after him out there," Rhule said. "This is the time for him to learn how to play and win. Even at the end of the half where we ended up not scoring, we have to protect the ball...Knowing P.J, he'll learn from this and hopefully it'll drive him to be the best he can be."

Throughout recent weeks, Temple players and staff have been quick to mention how the Owls are just a handful of points away from a winning record. And to a certain extent that's true. What separates winning teams from losing teams, however, is often the ability to put away reeling opponents.

"I feel like some guys on the team have [a killer instinct] and some guys don't," Smith said. "Watch Kobe Bryant. I hate that guy but he's got that killer instinct. If we got more guys on the team that had that killer instinct, we would win."

"We can't keep talking about it and not doing it," Walker agreed. "We just have to show one time that we've got it. That's what it really is. Coming out and showing we can really do it."

Until then, the Owls will continue to be stuck in quicksand.

Extra points

Senior wide receiver Ryan Alderman set career highs with seven catches for 96 yards… John Christopher also set career highs with seven catches for 66 yards… junior wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick broke his hand and did not return in the game… Temple announced a crowd of 20,045. Temple averaged 22,473 fans per home game this season.

OwlScoop.com assistant editor Kyle Gauss can be reached at kgauss@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kylegauss.


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