The Temple football team talked all offseason about increasing its pass rush and forcing turnovers.
The defensive emphasis showed up in a big way on Thursday night as the Owls opened the 2014 campaign by stunning host Vanderbilt, 37-7, in a game delayed an hour-and-a-half by a lightning delay. Temple coach Matt Rhule has also stressed making sure his team is ready for anything, and the wait certainly didn’t affect them.
Behind an effective pass rush, Temple forced seven turnovers. None was bigger than a sack/forced fumble by Avery Ellis that led to Averee Robinson scooping and scoring from 55 yards out with 39 seconds to play in the first half, giving the Owls a 21-7 halftime lead.
Ellis came clean from the blind side and drilled Vanderbilt quarterback Steven Rivers – who had replaced starter Patton Robinette early in the second quarter – and the play was upheld after a long review to check to see if Rivers’ knee was down before the ball came loose.
Temple dominated the entire first half. The Commodores’ first turnover- also a fumble recovered by Robinson - led to the first Temple score when quarterback P.J. Walker hit Brandon Shippen on a fourth-and-5 slant that turned into a 35-yard touchdown pass.
Vanderbilt scored its only points on a bad punt snap when Temple punter Alex Starzyk tried to pick the ball up in the end zone, and the Commodores’ Oren Burks jumped on it for the score.
But the Temple defense stiffened, even after a Khalif Herbin fumble gave Vanderbilt the ball near midfield. Walker threw his second touchdown of the half when he connected with Jalen Fitzpatrick on a screen, and the senior receiver slipped into the end zone for an 18-yard score with just over two minutes to play in the first half.
The score broke the 7-7 tie and the Owls never looked back.
The seven turnovers were almost half of the 15 they came up with last year, and the Owls kicked three field goals – two from Austin Jones and one by Tyler Mayes – to match last year’s entire total.
Tavon Young picked off a pair of passes in the second half. The first led to a Walker 3-yard TD run that pushed the advantage to 31-7.
Walker finished 23-of-34 for 207 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover. He found eight different receivers with Nate Hairston hauling in seven.
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