You wouldn't have known it from the way they started, but the Temple Owls desperately needed a win over the #21 Memphis Tigers to keep their AAC East championship hopes alive. They shook off the sloppy start and came away with a 31-12 win over the Tigers to get back on track. Conversely, the Tigers' season has gone off the rails. It's their third straight loss, made all the more disappointing by the fact that they were once again in control early before letting it slip away.
The Owls got contributions from David Hood and Brandon Shippen in the run game, but the real story was the Temple defense limiting Paxton Lynch and the Tiger offense (the top ranked scoring offense in the AAC) to just 12 points. The Owls swarmed the Tigers all game long, limiting big plays and holding them to field goals when they did get close.
It's a good thing the Owl defense came to play, because the first three drives by the Temple offense ended in disaster.
On their first possession, the Owls moved the ball well, all the way to the Memphis 30. However, a holding call wiped out a big run by Jahad Thomas, then Thomas fumbled the ball away. Temple's defense held strong, forcing a Memphis punt on the ensuing drive.
Then, Reggis Ball picked off P.J. Walker at the one-yard line. The Tigers put together a 15 play, 86-yard drive, but had to settle for a Jake Elliot field goal after Alan Cross dropped a wide open pass on third down that would've been a sure touchdown.
It was more bad news for Temple on the first play of the second quarter, as Thomas was stuffed on the fourth down run, giving the ball back to the Tigers.
Once again, though, the Temple defense bowed up. Tavon Young made several key stops on the perimeter for the Owls, who held Memphis to another Elliot field goal, giving them a 6-0 lead. Another Thomas fumble almost cost the Owls again, but they were able to recover. Walker then hit Colin Thompson up the seam for a 33 yard gain, followed by a nice TD catch by Romand Deloatch that gave the Owls a 7-6 lead. After the defense got another stop, Brandon Shippen and David Hood took over in the run game for the Owls. Shippen hit a big run up the middle to get Temple within striking distance, and Hood finished off the drive with a 14 yard TD run to go up 14-6. Lynch and the Tiger offense once again moved the ball into Temple territory before the half, but were held to another field goal. The Owls led at the half, 14-9.
In the second half, Temple's defense continued to limit the Tigers. Thomas was again stuffed on a fourth and one by the Memphis defense midway through the third, but all the Tigers got out of it was another field goal. The Owls led 14-12 heading into the fourth.
Kip Patton found the end zone on a 13-yard misdirection play on the first play of the fourth quarter, giving Temple a 21-12 lead. From there, fruitless offensive endeavors continued for the Tigers. The Owls chewed up over eight minutes of clock on their next scoring drive, adding an Austin Jones field goal to go up 24-12. Temple got a fourth and one stop of their own on the Tigers' next drive, and were able to seal the game with a 19 yard TD hookup between Walker and Saladeem Major to come away with a 31-12 win.
The performance of the Temple defense in what amounted to a must-win game cannot be overstated. They held the Tigers to season lows in points (12) and total yards (195), while the Walker and the offense overcame the sloppy start to finish strong. Walker largely outplayed Lynch, finishing 14-26 for 261 yards and two touchdowns. The Owls finished with 461 total yards, showing great balance on the day.
ON the other side, Memphis continues to spin out of control. The Tigers moved the ball well at times, but they simply could not break through when it mattered. Lynch finished 20-28 for just 136 yards, while Memphis rushed for only 63 yards. It was the third straight loss for Memphis, whose 8-0 start feels like forever ago.
The win brings Temple to 9-2 on the year, but more importantly puts them in position to clinch a spot in the AAC championship game with a win over UConn next week. Memphis falls to 8-3 and closes out the season against SMU next Saturday.