Don’t tell Geoff Collins and his Temple Owls they’re doomed after falling to 0-2 for the first time since 2013 in an excruciating 36-29 loss to Buffalo on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
They’re convinced as long as they stick together, work hard and clean up some of the issues that have cost them these first two weeks—particularly on third down—they can still turn it all around.
“It’s the first time that’s happened since I’ve been here,” said grad student defensive tackle Michael Dogbe, after Bulls’ All-American wide receiver Anthony Johnson broke free from a tackler and took it to the house for the game winner with 59 seconds left.
“I was part of the group that turned it around, so it’s not a good feeling. But it’s a long season. We’ve got a lot of ball left. It’s not too late to turn it around.”
To do so, the Owls will need to be a lot more efficient on both sides of the ball to reverse an alarming trend that has seen them surrender 832 yards the past two weeks.
Going against Buffalo’s massive 6-foot-7, 245-pound quarterback Tyree Jackson, who threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns, while Kevin Marks rushed for 138 yards and two scores, Temple simply couldn’t come up with the stops when it most needed it.
Getting off the field on defense we have to improve that,” said Collins, as Buffalo drove 81 yards in 10 plays for the winning score, converting three third downs along the way, including one when Temple was called for roughing the passer after an incomplete pass.
“We’re a leverage-based defense. If you lose your leverage you’re going to have tough downs”, he explained. “We’ve got to generate more pressure on the quarterback as well.”
However, thanks to an improbable 39-yard Frank Nutile-to-Branden Mack Hail Mary touchdown pass on the final play of the first half, followed by Mack blocking a punt which Ty Mason recovered in the end zone, then another Nutile-to-Mack three-yard score, the Owls managed to pull even, 29-29, with 4:53 remaining in the game.
They even pulled off their own Cherry-and-White version of the Philly Special when wide receiver Ventell Bryant took a handoff on the reverse, then flipped the football to tight end Kenny Yeboah for the tying two-point conversion.
But even that wasn’t enough, as Buffalo—trailing 14-12 early in the third quarter– scored on four of its last seven possessions to drop Temple to 0-2 for the first time since Collins’ predecessor, Matt Rhule’s first season at the helm.
Reversing that trend against 2-0 Maryland next week, who’ll be playing in an emotionally charged College Park for the first time since the controversial death of freshman Jordan McNair during a summer workout, won’t be easy.
“The biggest thing is staying together and staying as one,” said Nutile, who had an up and down day.
Nutile threw for 215 yards and three scores, but also got picked off twice and had the ball stripped with 15 seconds left and Temple desperately trying to come up with a miracle finish.
“We’ll come in, watch tape and evaluate,” he continued. “We can’t mope about it. We’ve just got to be ready to go.”
The key, as more than one Owl said is simple for them to get back on track.
“We need to execute,” said cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, who had six solo tackles and one interception. He also had a pick on Buffalo’s attempted two-point conversion which he took back over 100 yards to the house for an apparent two points only to see it wiped out by a blocking-in-the-back penalty.
“We’ve got to learn from this game and get better.”
Against Villanova and Buffalo, the Owls have had flashes of brilliance. But after taking second-half leads in both games, they’ve suffered critical breakdowns, particularly in the secondary, which has been torched for six touchdowns.
Nevertheless, the good thing is there’s plenty of time to recover, even with a rugged American Athletic Conference schedule that includes games at Navy, Houston and Central Florida.
“We just worry about going 1-0 every single week,” said Collins, who found an effective use for backup quarterbacks Anthony Russo and Todd Centaio as a change of pace for Nutile.
“That’s the whole mindset and focus. Come back to work and continue to get better and better as we move forward.”
In other words, even being 0-2 for the first time in five years. Temple is certainly not doomed.