Matt Rhule and Temple headed back to Philly thinking about what could have been.
The Owls (3-3, 1-1) rolled up 531 yards of total offense—including a career-high 445 passing yards from Phillip Walker—but their inability to take care of the football (three turnovers) and failure to convert in the red zone loomed large in their 34-27 loss at Memphis on Thursday night.
Temple had excellent field position early in the game, but the Tigers’ defense stood tall and forced a pair of chip shot field goals by Austin Jones.
Jones—who extended his nation-leading streak of consecutive field goals made to 18 before missing two in the second half—made a 31-yard attempt to break the ice with 7:47 to play in the first quarter.
The Owls stripped Memphis’ Tony Pollard at the six on the ensuing kickoff, but settled for a 23 yard field goal after not gaining a yard.
It remained 6-0 until Ryquell Armstead scored from two yards out to cap a 12-play, 80-yard drive with just over two minutes left in the half.
After producing less than 40 yards on their first six possessions of the half, the Tigers took some momentum into the break when Jake Elliott’s 19-yard field goal finished off a 12-play drive that consumed nearly 80 yards.
Trailing 13-3, Memphis (4-1, 1-0) used a 42-yard Elliott field goal, 71-yard jaunt by Doroland Dorceus, and 23-yard pick six by Genard Avery over a four-minute stretch late in the third quarter to take a 20-13 lead they would not relinquish.
The Tigers—who scored 27 unanswered points—increased their cushion to two touchdowns when Darrell Henderson reached pay dirt on a 28-yard run with 8:14 to play.
Walker and the Owls’ offense responded when the veteran signal-caller connected with Jahad Thomas for a 61-yard score to get within 27-20, but Pollard—who fumbled earlier—redeemed himself by taking the kickoff 95 yards to the house.
Thomas, who was limited to just 37 yards on 13 carries, did finish with six receptions for 121 yards and his second touchdown—this one from nine yards out—made it 34-27 with just under four minutes left.
A strong effort from the Temple defense limited Riley Ferguson to a season-low 174 yards passing and did a nice job of stopping the ground game other than two plays.
The Owls will now look to bounce back at upstart UCF next Saturday night.
First-year coach Mike Norvell and Memphis will play three of their next four games away from the Liberty Bowl. The Tigers begin that stretch when they travel to Tulane where they will face the much-improved Green Wave and new coach Willie Fritz next Saturday at 8 pm.