After struggling against FCS Villanova, should Temple be worried?

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There’ll be no asterisk attached to Temple’s harder-than-it should’ve been 16-13 win over Villanova Saturday at the Linc Saturday, in the renewal of a local rivalry discontinued after 2012. Geoff Collins won’t care that his first win as Owls coach was hardly a thing of beauty, as Aaron Boumerhi’s 49-yard field goal with a minute remaining saved the day after Temple blew a 13-0 third quarter lead.

As for the Wildcats’ near miss against an FBS school coming off a 10-win season and American Athletic Conference title, while new coach Mark Ferrante was justifiably proud of his troops he knows the bottom line still says ‘L’ rather than ‘W.’

“We don’t have the numbers they have and I’m sure they rotated more than we did, but if you told me we’d hold Temple to 16 today I’d taken it,” said Ferrante, after Zack Bednarczyk threw for a career-high 382 yards while his defense limited the Owls to 79 yards on the ground. “If you can keep it close against an FBS team and have an opportunity to win in the fourth quarter, I’m not big on moral victories but I think we were able to prove we can compete with a level-up team. I don’t think we got worn down, which is what’s happened at times when we’ve played those teams. We were right there at the end.”

Give the No. 6 in the FCS-ranked Cats credit for that, but at the same time hand the Owls a few demerits for not putting them away earlier. Some questionable decision making and play calling forced Temple to settle for field goals rather than touchdowns. In fact they were fortunate to even get in the end zone — on Nick Sharga’s one-yard run — when Collins failed to call a timeout and nearly had the first half clock run out before they could get in.

Then, after Boumerhi’s 44-yard field goal made it 13-0 midway through the third, rather than going for the jugular Temple eased off and watched Nova erase the entire deficit.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys and I think they started relaxing a bit feeling we’ve got the game in hand,” admitted senior defensive end Sharif Finch, who recovered Matt Gudzak’s fumble on Villanova’s final desperate comeback bid with nine seconds left to seal the deal. “They don’t understand you have to battle every play. But once we buckled back down we were able to get it done.”

The Owls also got back to tackling and pressuring the quarterback, something noticeably lacking in their 49-16 opening game debacle at Notre Dame, where they were gouged for 422 yards rushing and a whopping 606 yards overall. It made for a miserable week of practice.

“It was terrible for all of us,” said defensive coordinator Taver Johnson, pleased how his unit responded by holding the 1-1 Wildcats to just 20 yards rushing. “Like someone hitting you in your gut all day. The biggest thing we teach is you have to stop the run. Stop the run and you have a chance no matter who you’re playing.”

In this case they were playing a school 17 miles from their North Philadelphia campus, which meant the Linc had a divided fan base.

“I never played against Villanova before,” said Finch, as Temple not only made it four in a row over ‘Nova, but evened the all-time series 16-16-2. “It was a little different having both sides in the crowd from the same city.
“It was an interesting crowd, but we took care of business today.”

Not without a struggle as quarterback Logan Marchi, who’s emerged from a four-way battle to replace Philip Walker as the starter, was inconsistent, going 20-for-34 for 274 yards. But after Nova’s Drew Kresge’s 34-yard field goal tied it with 3:29 left he drove the Owls 42 yards in seven plays — aided by Ventell Bryant’s spectacular 29-yard one-handed grab — to set the stage for Boumerhi’s game winner. 
“We practice those situations constantly,” said Collins, who’ll have less than a week to get his team ready for UMass here Friday night. “We do the two-minute and four minute drills all the time. So nobody panicked.”

A work of art it certainly wasn’t. But it was a win.

For Geoff Collins — or any other coach for that matter — that’s all that counts.

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