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Temple’s record-setting performance not enough to knock off No. 12 UCF

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The Owls led for much of the first half, but the defending champs pulled away in the second frame.

NCAA Football: Temple at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Temple Owls traded blows in the first half with No. 12 UCF Knights, but the defending national champions dominated the second half in the 52-40 win on Thursday night.

Temple gave UCF their toughest test yet of the season, but the Knights took hold of first place in the AAC East as Temple, Cincinnati and USF all have one conference loss each.

The Owls led for most of the first half and entered the break with a 34-28 lead following the first of two receiving touchdowns from Ventell Bryant with 18 seconds remaining. Temple racked up 445 yards on offense in the first half, and 670 when it was all said and done. It was a record-setting performance for the Temple offense as they broke the previous record of 622 yards in 1974 against Southern Illinois.

Two things haunted Temple in the second half: turnovers and injuries. Anthony Russo threw two interceptions in the second half and injuries on the offensive line, specifically center Matt Hennessy, doomed the Owls offense. Ryquell Armstead returned to action and picked up 142 yards on the ground, but his ankle injury flared up and forced him to sit on the sidelines for much of the fourth quarter.

Russo threw for 444 yards and four touchdowns, and also added a rushing score on a fake field goal, while Bryant led the Owls with seven receptions for 107 yards and the two scores.

McKenzie Milton did play after sitting out two weeks ago against ECU and being a game-time decision all week. The reigning AAC Player of the Year completed 17-of-33 passes for 312 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, while adding a rushing touchdown.

The conversation surrounding UCF is whether they’ll be in the discussion come playoff time as they are one of just four unbeaten teams remaining in the FBS. Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame are the only other undefeated teams in the FBS and currently holding down three of the spots in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. The Knights are ranked No. 12 despite sporting a 21-game winning streak.

The argument against the Knights is their strength of schedule, which ranks 127th. Temple is the only team the defending champs have beaten this season that has a winning record. That cannot be there concern, however. They need to keep beating everyone on their schedule. UCF will remain at home next week to take on Navy.

Meanwhile, Temple continues their gruesome four-game gauntlet of the AAC’s best when they travel to Houston next week and welcome USF the following the week.