Since day one of preseason camp, the Temple Owls have talked about owning the fourth quarter. Saturday afternoon, they finally did it.
P.J. Walker threw a pair of touchdown passes and the defense forced consecutive three-and-outs as the Owls erased a 24-21 fourth quarter deficit to post a 35-24 victory over Tulsa at Lincoln Financial Field.
With the win, the Owls improved to 2-0 in American Athletic Conference play, and 4-1 overall. It’s only the second time since 1979 that Temple has started 4-1.
At the end of the third quarter, Tulsa had a 70-yard advantage in total offense (376-306) and a 15-minute advantage in time of possession. The Owls had committed two turnovers, and forced none. And when Carl Salazar nailed a 44-yard field goal in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, the Golden Hurricane had a 24-21 lead.
“I tell the guys that the first three quarters are there to set up the fourth quarter,” Temple Coach Matt Rhule said after the game.
That sounds great.
But with three blowout wins and a fourth quarter comeback that failed against Navy, the Owls had not been able to translate Rhule’s words into actions this season. And the fourth quarter was often a disaster last year.
Not on Saturday.
The fourth quarter push started with a 32-yard dash by tailback Jamie Gilmore. Temple quickly moved into the Tulsa red zone, before Walker missed three straight passes and freshman Austin Jones missed a 37-yard field goal.
But the Owl defense forced a quick three-and-out – this after the Golden Hurricane had run 48 plays for 289 yards and 17 first downs in the second and third quarters alone.
Minutes later, Temple was back ahead, thanks to a 36-yard pass from Walker to Gilmore, followed by Walker’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Fitzpatrick (who has caught a TD pass in every game this season).
Tulsa had surrendered nine touchdowns of 30 yards or longer in its first five games this season. The Owls took note.
“It was something where we might sneak a big play in there when it was open,” Walker said of the gameplan.
Back in front, the Temple defense forced another three-and-out. And when the Owls got the ball, sophomore Jahad Thomas popped a 34-yard run. Thomas had opened the game with a 68-yard run, which set up Temple’s first score. He finished with 14 carries for 152 yards.
But Thomas’ biggest play was also his only catch of the game. On 3rd-and-17 at the Tulsa 20, Walker dumped the ball to Thomas, who raced up the sideline – with some big blocks from Fitzpatrick and Brendan McGowan – and tiptoed into the endzone for the game-clinching score with 3:25 to go.
A few plays earlier, Rhule had bypassed a field goal attempt on 4th-and-1 at the Tulsa 19 – opting instead for Walker to roll out and throw the ball to Kenneth Harper. It worked.
“I knew from the start that we were going to go for it,” said Rhule, who nonetheless sent Jones onto the field and lined up for a field goal before calling timeout just before the play clock expired. “I was just going to let the clock run down there.”
In the end, Temple compiled 191 yards in the fourth quarter. Tulsa totaled 62 yards.
Walker finished 15 for 31 for 294 yards, with two TD passes and an interception. Fitzpatrick (5-107) and Gilmore (2-100) both had 100 yards receiving. There were a lot of big plays.
But when they didn’t hit the big plays, the Owls had some problems, too.
After grabbing a 7-0 lead, Temple closed the first quarter with consecutive three-and-outs, then Thomas fumbled the ball on a kickoff return (after Tulsa had tied the score).
The Owls regained the lead on a successful fake field goal, as Connor Reilly ran it in from three yards out – a play on which Tulsa may have been lulled to sleep by a replay review of the previous play.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the second and third quarters were dominated by Tulsa’s ground game.
Facing a dedicated spread offense for the first time this season, Temple had a hard time zeroing in on Tulsa tailback Zack Langer, who finished with 30 carries for 113 yards. Quarterback Dane Evans (21 for 36, 260 yards, 2 TDs) also had success hitting favorite target Keevan Lucas (9 catches, 109 yards).
The Owls missed a coverage assignment when Evans hit a wide-open Mandel Dixon for a nine-yard TD pass midway through the second quarter.
The Hurricane then missed two chances to take the lead – first when Salazar missed a 44-yard field goal, then when Nate Smith and Tyler Matakevich stuffed Langer on a 4th-and-goal rushing attempt from the one-yard line.
The Owls seemed to have no momentum starting from the 1 with two minutes left in the half. But they stayed aggressive and threw the ball twice out of the endzone – and picked up a first down thanks to a roughing the passer call against Tulsa.
Then Rhule and offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield got really aggressive, banking on heavy pursuit as Walker rolled to his right, and Gilmore slipped down the backside and Walker hit him in stride for a 64-yard gain. It’s the same play they would call later on the game-clinching fourth quarter drive.
Gilmore was wide-open both times.
“That’s the hardest throw to make,” Walker remarked afterward.
Two plays later, with 21 seconds left in the half, Walker ran it in for a five-yard score – with another key block by Fitzgerald.
So the Owls had a 21-14 lead at the half.
Tulsa tied the game when Evans hit Lucas for a 29-yard TD pass on the opening drive of the third quarter. And the Hurricane seemed to hold the momentum for the rest of the period.
Then came the fourth quarter.
And Temple owned it.
Notes ... Junior safety Alex Wells returned from a knee injury he suffered in this year’s opening game at Vanderbilt and looked great, contributing eight tackles and a pass breakup ... Matakevich led the Owls with 14 tackles ... Sophomore tight end Colin Thompson, a transfer from Florida, caught his first pass in a Temple uniform ... Hawaii transfer Keith Kirkwood also saw action – a surprise – for the Owls ... The sophomore wide receiver was expected to sit out the year, but was granted a hardship waiver by the NCAA on Friday.
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