On Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, the numbers did lie.
For starters, Temple lost the time of possession battle to Tulsa by nearly 14 minutes in its American Athletic Conference opener. The Owls were outgained from scrimmage, 403-300 while surrendering 32 first downs. More telling, the Golden Hurricane ran off a staggering 107 plays from scrimmage to Temple’s 57.
So then how did the Owls manage to pull off a 31-17 win?
“We got a lot of sacks and turnovers,” said Temple coach Geoff Collins, after the Owls had six sacks and forced five turnovers, turning two of them into touchdowns to even their record at 2-2. “It’s nice to see the last two weeks we’ve been creating them, causing fumbles and getting picks.”
“Their offense was fast tempo and doing a lot of things. What they do is spread you sideline to sideline,” Collins explained. “They really make you defend the entire field. But the second half, we were forcing them into passing situations, so our guys could stop playing the run game and cut it loose.”
“But defending 107 plays when you’re already depleted in depth they kept battling and showed how tough and resilient they are.”
Actually, the number was even higher, despite what the final stat sheet said at the end of the game.
“That’s astronomical and the way the stat sheet works they don’t count plays where there were penalties,” revealed defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker. “Obviously having depth is critical in these type of games, but our guys held up. We had a lot of guys playing. You saw a lot of bodies on defense.”
Cornerback Ty Mason and defensive tackle Karamo Dioubate were one of many players who came up huge for the Owls. First, Mason stepped in front of a Luke Skipper pass, picked it off and took it 36 yards to the house to give Temple an early 7-0 lead.
Then after the Owls had extended it to 21-7 on short touchdown runs by quarterback Anthony Russo and running back Ryquell Armstead, followed by a late first-half goalline stand that forced Tulsa to settle for a field goal, it was Dioubate’s turn.
With Tulsa on the move early in the third, Skipper was sacked from behind by Quincy Roche and lost the ball. Dioubate scooped it up and rumbled 50 yards untouched to the end zone, pushing the margin to 28-10.
While Tulsa continued to move up and down the field throughout the night, Temple managed to keep them at pretty much at bay, sealing the game with another Roche fourth-quarter strip sack and a Benny Walls’ interception.
So what’s changed after two lackluster performances in losses to Villanova and Buffalo where the Owls gave up 832 combined yards? “We just had to get our edge back,” replied linebacker Chapelle Russell, who had eight tackles and a fumble recovery.
“The first two games we weren’t playing Temple football. We prepared all week for this tempo. But I honestly didn’t expect to play this much.”
Weary as they had to be, the win made it all worthwhile. And fortunately, they’ll have some time to recover before taking on Boston College and former Owls’ coach Steve Addazio on Saturday.
“The first two weeks we weren’t executing,” said Roche, whose two sacks and two forced fumbles came with him being less than 100 percent healthy. “They had a great scheme, but our coaches gave us an excellent game plan. And those (defensive) touchdowns were a big energy boost that hyped up the sidelines and got the offense going, too.”
It didn’t hurt that Armstead rushed for 108 yards—his third straight 100-yard game—and even managed to record a sack while filling in on the defensive line. Meanwhile, Russo, making his second straight start in place of the injured Frank Nutile, was unspectacular but managed to get the job done again.
But this win belongs to the defense, which has allowed only a combined two touchdowns over the last two weeks. While you could hardly say they rested on this night, they managed to take care of business when it counted most.
No matter what the numbers may say.