For two quarters, Temple had a 10-point lead and visions of pulling off a program-defining upset win over No. 19 Rutgers Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Then the second half happened.
The Owls returned from halftime in a haze and watched the Scarlet Knights respond with 223 yards and 21 unanswered points in the third quarter en route to blowing out the Owls, 35-10, before a half scarlet red/half cherry red crowd of 35,145 - the third largest crowd for Temple at the Linc in the program's history.
Rutgers, which remained undefeated and improved to 7-0, held Temple (3-3) to just 49 yards of total offense in the second half and a paltry one yard in the fourth quarter. The Scarlet Knights also forced three turnovers - two fumbles and an interception - out of Owls junior quarterback Chris Coyer, and one of those fumbles and the pick led to 14 Rutgers points.
An Owls defense that held the Scarlet Knights and quarterback Gary Nova to 110 yards of total offense in the first half got torched in the last two quarters, allowing Nova to complete 12 of his last 15 passes for 176 yards and four touchdowns. And Jawan Jamison, the Big East's leading rusher, got 73 yards in the second half and finished with 114 on 19 carries.
After beating South Florida two weeks ago in its return to the Big East and beating Connecticut last weekend to win consecutive Big East games for the first time in the program's history, this loss stung Temple and showed there is still a clear talent and depth gap between these two programs.
Rutgers' ability to simply turn on the rout in the third quarter and Temple's inability to stop it illustrated it.
"We played like crap in the third quarter, let the game get away from us, and that's what happened," said Temple coach Steve Addazio, who called Saturday's third quarter one of the worst he's seen in a long time.
When Addazio was asked if Rutgers did anything differently with its offensive gameplan in the second half, the second-year head coach flatly said, "Not a damn thing."
Coyer, who finished 7 of 14 passing for just 65 yards to go with his first-quarter touchdown pass to tight end Cody Booth, was benched in the fourth quarter in favor of backup Clinton "Juice" Granger. Coyer threw an interception in the third quarter off his back foot, and that turnover led to Nova's five-yard touchdown pass to Mark Harrison that staked Rutgers to a 21-10 lead with 28 seconds left in the third quarter. And on his last play of the day, Coyer got sacked by Scarlet Knights defensive tackle Jamil Merrell, and linebacker Khaseem Green scooped it up and returned it 20 yards to account for the game's final score.
By the time Granger, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior from George Washington by way of Pierce College in California, got into the game, Temple was already trailing, 35-10. Granger completed one of his three attempts, a seven-yard side-armed toss to freshman wide receiver Sam Benjamin.
"I pulled Chris in the second half because I said at that point, I wanted to see Juice play," Addazio said. "That's it. We'll go back and see what happened. You've got guys competing every week in there, and that ball's turned over twice, it was a good time for Juice to go in there and take some snaps, so that's what I wanted to do, and I did."
So will there be an open competition for the starting quarterback job this week, Addazio was asked.
"It's always open," Addazio said. "That's what it is. Go back and watch the film and see what I see. We're not going to turn the ball over; we're just not going to do that. We're not coughing the thing up for grabs. That's not going to happen. The best players will play. That's the way it is.
"But in that situation, I wanted to see Juice play so I put him in to play. I wouldn't overly read into that."
That last statement would seem to indicate that Addazio will not be making a change at quarterback when Temple plays at Pitt next Saturday, but Coyer did not sound like a player who is approaching the upcoming week like his job is completely safe.
"I have to execute the offense better," said Coyer, who said his first-quarter touchdown pass was intended for Kenny Harper but caught instead after Harper tipped it by Booth. "I've got to throw the ball better. I've got to keep the ball high and tight; there were too many fumbles out there on the field. I've got to eliminate the turnovers.
"I don't know if we came out complacent, but I guess we didn't have the same fire," Coyer added when asked about what went wrong in the second half. "And I guess, especially on offense, that reflects back on me."
Rutgers came into Saturday's game with the nation's 82nd-ranked scoring offense, and the Scarlet Knights were even worse than that in a scoreless first half that saw them get just four first downs and 110 yards of total offense. That futility included a failed fourth-and-1 attempt at the Temple 18-yard line with 6:03 left before halftime.
Temple got on the board with 36 seconds left in the first quarter on Coyer's touchdown pass to Booth, and Brandon McManus' extra point made it 7-0 with 36 seconds left in the period. McManus later drilled a 49-yard field goal at the 1:10 mark of the second quarter to make it 10-0. He had missed from 48 yards a little more than two minutes earlier.
Rutgers, however, took the opening kickoff of the second half and responded with a six-play 75-yard drive that took just 2:17 off the clock and culminated in a 32-yard touchdown pass from Nova to Tim Wright, who appeared to push off Temple cornerback Tavon Young, who was flagged for pass interference on the play. The Scarlet Knights went ahead for good a little more than seven minutes later when Nova connected with Jamison on a well-executed 32-yard screen pass for a touchdown.
And after Nova's five-yard strike to Harrison made it 21-10, 6-6, 250-pound tight end D.C. Jefferson went up over the Temple defense to haul in a 10-yard scoring pass from Nova, and Nick Borgese's extra point made it a 28-10 ballgame with 11:41 left and sent the majority of Temple's student section heading for the exits.
So what happened in the second half? Did Rutgers do anything differently in the second half? Depends on who was talking after the game. Either way, Temple still has a chance to win at least three more games to get bowl eligible, and letting this one linger obviously won't help.
"Coach won't allow anything other than us coming back, working hard and getting ready for the next game," senior defensive end John Youboty said. "It's a Big East game and we're going to be motivated."
Extra points: Temple played the game without starting senior free safety Vaughn Carraway, who was suspended by the Big East for a hit he delivered in last week's game at Connecticut. … Sophomore Chris Hutton started in his place and contributed four tackles, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. … Freshman outside linebacker Tyler Matakevich led Temple in tackles for the third straight week, this time with 10 stops. Junior Abdul Smith, who transferred to Temple from Rutgers, got the start over previous starter Zamel Johnson at field corner and recorded two tackles. ... Temple wore new black pants and black uniform tops Saturday.