It was far from pretty, but the Owls avoided a major scare by defeating the UCF Golden Knights 30-16 on a chilly Saturday afternoon in Philly.
UCF would enter the scoring column first, as Matthew Wright drilled a 48-yard field goal to put the winless visitors ahead 3-0. Temple would respond as Jahad Thomas scored for a fifth straight game with a rushing touchdown and P.J. Walker found freshman wideout Ventell Bryant, and Temple pushed their lead to 14-3. The touchdown was Bryant's first as an Owl.
The Knights would storm back on a pick-six from corner Shaquil Griffin on an overthrow by Walker to cut the lead to just four points. Wright continued to make his presence known with two straight field goal conversions to put the Knights up 16-14.
Mishaps all over the field, including not one but two fumbled punts, stagnated the Owls comeback before Thomas hit pay dirt once again on a 22-yard rush early in the fourth quarter, followed by a rollout and fade to Collin Thompson for the two point conversion.
Thomas got the elusive hat trick in the fourth, as his 21-yard run iced the game for Temple. Thomas spearheaded the Owls attack as he has all year, racking up 199 yards on 31 carries plus three scores. Temple hasn't had a consistent rushing attack to utilize in years, and this gives head coach Matt Rhule a valuable asset to feature.
Saturday's game was Walker's least efficient performance of the season, going 15-for-27 for 144 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Plenty of those could have been picked off (but weren't) by the UCF defenders, which kept the game closer than the final score indicated. Despite leading the team in catches (4) and yards (42), Robby Anderson had issues on special teams, as he muffed a UCF punt which led to a field goal.
Special teams looked to be a nightmare for the Owls, as both Robby Anderson and cornerback Sean Chandler muffed punts, but Chandler responded with a 65-yard punt return to put the Owls at the UCF 21-yard line to set up Thomas' clinching TD run.
While both the offense and special teams were ineffective, the defense stepped up. They held the Golden Knights to just 64 yards total in the first half and harassed QB Justin Holman all night. The dual-threat signal caller struggled mightily to find his targets, completing just 10-of-31 passes for an underwhelming 67 yards and two picks. He wasn't helped much by his wideouts, who struggled to get open against Chandler and Tavon Young and dropped balls repeatedly.
After allowing just eight rushing yards against Tulane last week, Temple doubled down on the run stuffing mantra. UCF totaled 130 yards on the ground and two touchdowns last season against the Owls, but were limited to just 67 yards on 29 carries.
Senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich recorded his 400th career tackle in the contest and was a key contributor in Temple's defensive effort Saturday night. He also recorded an interception in the fourth quarter, his third on the season.
Temple (6-0, 3-0) ties the school's record for most wins to start a season and faces ECU (4-3, 2-1) on Thursday at 7:00 p.m.