Temple got absolutely zero credit for pummeling Penn State last week. In fact, the Owls received so little recognition for a dominant defense performance (10 sacks, 52 yards allowed over the final three quarters), that it entered Nippert Stadium as a 7-point underdog to preseason conference favorite Cincinnati on Saturday night.
Rather than complain about it in the media (see: Bielema, Bret), Temple decided to do its talking on the field. Behind a total team effort, the Owls defeated Cincinnati, 34-26, and put themselves in the driver’s seat to win the AAC East.
Make no mistake about it: TU played well in every facet of the game Saturday night. Led by running back Jahad Thomas (26 carries for 193 yards), the Owl ground game rolled up 215 yards, averaging 6 yards per carry. Although Temple finished with only 81 yards passing, quarterback P.J. Walker made some excellent throws, including a near perfect toss to Robby Anderson in the third quarter.
On the other side of the ball, the Owls kept coming up with big plays all night. Yes, Temple allowed 557 yards of total offense, and gave up a whopping 34 first downs. However, the Owl D did a great job of forcing turnovers. The defense picked off Gunner Kiel four times – an impressive feat considering that he threw only 13 INTs in 2014 – and recovered a fumble early in the game to take a 3-0 lead.
As well as these two units played, it was the TU special teams which broke this game wide open. Leading just 10-6 at intermission, Temple immediately expanded its lead when Thomas took the second half kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. This score changed the entire complexion of the game, putting momentum squarely on the side of the Owls.
So, what does it all mean?
Simply put: the Owls are an excellent team. While there are still some people who think that Penn State lost last week’s game more than Temple won it, there’s no denying that Owls are a force to be reckoned with in the AAC. Beating the preseason media favorite on the road, in a game that was a lot more lopsided than the final score would indicate, tells you all you need to know about Matt Rhule’s team. Based on what we’ve seen out of Temple the first few weeks of the season, I would not be surprised if the Owls earn a New Year’s Day bowl bid. This team is that good.