When teams play Houston, making sure they can protect the football is the number one key to offensive success. The Cougar defense is one of the most opportunistic in the country, leading the American Athletic Conference in forced turnovers this season, and the nation over the last 20 games. Some internet writer even said it was a fairly important point of focus for the Owls. So, when we tell you that Temple turned the ball over 4 times and countered with none, it should come as no surprise that the Owls fell 31-10 to Houston Friday night.
Temple falls to 4-2 on the year and 2-1 in American play, while Houston improves to 4-3 on the season and 2-1 in the American. The Owls, who looked like they could potentially be a contender in the conference after their hot start to the season will need to regroup before the travel to Orlando for a date with UCF next weekend. Houston, on the other hand, has a slate of very winnable games down the stretch that could set them up for conference supremacy if ECU falters.
After Greg Ward Jr. sparked Houston to a victory over Memphis on the road last week, containing him was going to be a crucial goal for Temple. On Houston's first drive, that proved problematic. Ward Jr.'s feet kept Houston's drive alive on a crucial 4th-and-7, where he was able to make numerous Owls miss.
If not for a helmet-jettisoning hit from Avery Williams on the 2 yard line, he would have had a rushing touchdown. Ultimately, Houston would settle for a field goal on their first drive, which they would need to make three times due to penalties. Williams would be injured on the first field goal attempt, which made him the second key defensive contributor to go down on the drive with Sharif Finch being injured a few plays earlier.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, P.J. Walker threw a pick-six into the waiting arms of Trevon Stewart on a wildly misguided sideline pattern. Temple was in a 10-0 hole before the bus engines cooled.
For Walker, this was a continuation of struggles with inaccuracy he had the previous week against Tulsa. Walker was 12-29 for 259 yards 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions, and tied Jahad Thomas for the team lead in rushing yards with 49 and a lost fumble.
Houston took the ball at the Temple 48 yard line following a punt at the end of another short-lived Owls drive that barely escaped the shadow of their own goal-post. The Houston offense didn't miss a beat. A 19 yard run by Ryan Jackson came as a result of excellent blocking and the Temple defense keying a little too closely on Ward. The receiver-turned quarterback was the most dynamic cog in Houston's attack going 29-33 for 272 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air, adding 13 carries for 44 yards.
However, a facemasking penalty negated much of the gain from the Jackson run, but Ward was able to move the team back into field goal range on a play where he eluded what appeared to be a sure sack and fired a 21-yard dart to Jackson. However, the Owl defense would bunker down and hold the Cougars to a field goal. Fortunately for the Owls, Houston missed.
On the first play of the following drive Walker completed a screen pass to Jahad Thomas, who weaved between Houston defenders on the right sideline for a 72-yard gain to the Houston 8 yard line. Thomas followed up his 208 all-purpose yards against Tulsa with 199 total in Houston. Temple's drive stalled in the red zone, and the Owls settled for a field goal, bringing the score to 10-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Temple began the 2nd quarter without star linebacker Tyler Matakevich on the field. He had struggled with missed tackles on earlier drives, and it appeared to be an attempt by defensive coordinator Phil Snow to rotate defensive backs lower in the box to help counter Houston's speed on read-option and designed quarterback runs. They forced Houston into a 3rd-and-7, but the Cougars were able to convert on a tight inside slant to Markeith Ambles, which he caught after bobbling. Houston scored their first offensive touchdown with 11:03 remaining in the 2nd quarter on a Kenneth Farrow dive. The Cougars led the Owls 17-3.
Temple's defense staved off a pair of Houston drives before the offense was able to get anything going. The tides turned for the Owls' offense with just over 3 minutes remaining in the first half. It looked as though they were going to stall once again, but a 20 yard Walker run to convert a 3rd and 19 in their own territory was a shot in the arm. The drive culminated in a 39-yard touchdown pass from a scrambling Walker to Keith Kirkwood, the team's newly-added transfer from Hawaii. Going into the half the Owls trailed 17-10.
After a third consecutive forced punt from the Temple defense, the offense took the field for the first time in the second half. On 2nd and long, Walker completed a short pass to Jahad Thomas, which he carried 74 yards to the Houston 2 yard line. However, on first and goal, Walker fumbled the ball as he lunged toward the goal line, which Houston recovered for a touchback.
Temple's defense forced another Houston punt, but the Owls weren't able to establish much of a drive, and were forced to punt from midfield. However, the snap went over punter Alex Starzyk's head, and he was forced to fall on the ball, setting Houston up at their own 46. On first down Ward completed a 30 yard pass to Markeith Ambles, who was able to tap his right foot down before going out of bounds. A few plays later, Ward completed a 7 yard pass to Deontay Greenberry in the middle of the end zone for a touchdown. Houston now led Temple 24-10 with just under 2 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Turnovers remained a problem for the Owls. P.J. Walker overthrew a receiver in the middle of the field and the pass was intercepted by Howard Wilson, setting Houston up on the Temple 26 yard line. Two plays later, Ward completed a screen to Ryan Jackson, who took it 30 yards for a touchdown. Houston led Temple 31-10 with 51 seconds remaining in the third. That score would hold through the fourth quarter, and the Cougars would coast to victory over the Owls.