Owls Blitz UConn, 36-10

Defense, defense, and more defense. And P.J. Walker, too. Temple made big plays on both sides of the ball to score a 36-10 victory in its AAC opener at UConn on Saturday.

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – The Temple defense scored two more touchdowns and P.J. Walker had his best half this season as the Owls broke loose for a 36-10 victory over UConn in their American Athletic Conference opener on Saturday at Rentschler Field.

As usual in 2014, the defense was the big story for Coach Matt Rhule’s squad. Junior cornerback Tavon Young started the scoring off with a 93-yard interception return in the first quarter, and Praise Martin-Oguike scooped up a fumble and ran it in for an 11-yard score in the third quarter.

Four games into the season, the Owl defense has scored five touchdowns – which is exactly how many they’ve given up.

On Saturday, however, perhaps more important than defensive dominance was Walker’s big finish.

Following a listless first half, in which the Owls totaled just 31 yards of offense (and Walker was 6 for 10 for 23 yards, and was sacked twice), the sophomore signal caller started the third quarter with a flurry – completing 6 of 7 passes for 121 yards.

First came a 42-yard scoring strike to Jalen Fitzpatrick, followed by a 21-yard completion to Fitzpatrick and a 30-yard pass to Romond Deloatch. Walker’s second half stat line – 14 for 19 for 208 yards and a touchdown.

In less than eight minutes, the Owls pushed a 7-3 halftime lead to 28-3. Yet they could just as easily have been behind.

Khalif Herbin deflected and then mishandled the opening kickoff of the second half, and UConn recovered the ball for an apparent touchdown. But the play was negated by an offsides penalty, as one of the Huskies was a half-step across the 35-yard line when the ball was kicked.

Herbin also fumbled two punt returns in the first half – both inside the Temple 20. He pounced on one of them, and the Owl defense pushed UConn 11 yards backwards after the other one – before kicker Bobby Puyol missed a 45-yard field goal. Puyol made a 30-yarder just before the half to make it 7-3.

Freshman Austin Jones nailed a 47-yard field goal for the Owls in the fourth quarter, and followed with a 34-yarder. He also missed a 44-yarder.

UConn’s lone touchdown came late in the third quarter, when freshman Arkeel Newsome took a screen pass and weaved his way for a 74-yard score.

That play was one of the few offensive highlights for the Huskies.

UConn was able to run the ball effectively on the opening drive of the game. Leaning very heavily on tailback Max DeLorenzo, the Huskies converted two third downs and a fourth down as they moved towards the Temple red zone. They held the ball, in fact, for more than eight minutes.

Then Young stepped in front of a poorly-thrown pass by UConn’s Chandler Whitmer and raced the other way for a touchdown.

The Owls showed their defensive depth when they came right back on the field with several backups – the “1-A” unit, as Rhule called them after the game – and forced the Huskies into a quick three-and-out.

UConn managed no more than one first down on each of its next four drives, as the Owls put relentless pressure on Whitmer and his backup, Tim Boyle. This marked the fourth straight game in which Temple’s opponent has had to go to its backup quarterback.

Whitmer did re-enter the game on Saturday and led a scoring drive just before halftime. Puyol’s field goal was set up by a 26-yard pass from Whitmer to Geremy Davis, on which Temple safety Will Hayes took a poor angle on the star wide receiver. Hayes made up for his mistake three plays later, however, when he broke up a third-down pass attempt.

And that was about it for the UConn offense – one big play, one solid drive running the ball, and a decent two-minute drill. Otherwise, Temple’s defense made life miserable for the home team.

Freshman Sean Chandler led the Owls with eight tackles, which included the sack and forced fumble that led to Martin-Oguike’s touchdown. Connecticut native Tyler Matakevich had seven tackles, including a third quarter sack of Whitmer in the endzone for a safety.

Defensively, Temple had good numbers from top to bottom. Yet, in the first half, UConn’s defense looked even better.

The Owls picked up a pair of first downs on their first drive (which came almost 10 minutes into the game). Then Walker got sacked and the drive fizzled.

Two of the next three possessions went three-and-out, and the other was once again disrupted by a sack. Walker was sacked just once in the first three games this season.

Nobody seemed to get open in the secondary, and the running game was almost non-existent. Jamie Gilmore was the only running back to carry the ball for the Owls in the first half. He had five carries for 13 yards at the break.

Probably the most exciting offensive play for Temple was backup quarterback Connor Reilly’s 65-yard howitzer as time expired in the second quarter. With only seconds remaining after Puyol’s field goal, Rhule opted against taking a knee, and asked the strong-armed senior to air it out from the 30-yard line. But the pass was knocked away at the UConn 5.

Fitzpatrick helped change the game in the second half. He finished with six catches for 108 yards.

With the victory, Temple improved to 3-1. UConn is 1-4. The Owls are off next week and will host Tulsa at Lincoln Financial Field on Oct. 4.

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