Just not tall enough.
Memphis outlasted Temple in a defensive slug-fest when kicker Jake Elliott delivered the winning kick as time expired to give the Tigers (6-3, 4-1 AAC) a 16-13 win Friday at Lincoln Financial Field. The win clinched Memphis’ bowls eligibility as the Tigers also remain tied for first in the American Athletic Conference. Elliott was 3-for-3 on field goals tries in the game.
Temple (5-4, 3-2 AAC), just six days removed from upsetting then-No. 21 ECU, tied Memphis at 13 on Austin Jones’ 46-yard field goal with about three minutes remaining in regulation. It was his second successful try of the night. But Jones’ two field goals in the game combined with Temple lone offensive touchdown — its second in as many weeks — wasn’t enough.
Temple’s offense sputtered after posting 117 yards worth of offense in the first quarter. The Owls opened the scoring early in the game with a 43-yard field goal by Jones. Running back Kenny Harper netted 99 rushing yards before halftime and 75 of those came on a single play later in the quarter. Harper, who finished with 116 yards on 17 carries, split the Memphis defense and burned the Tigers’ defensive backs to help put Temple up, 10-0.
Then came an offensive lull that lasted until Temple’s last possession of the game, as well as a troublesome outing for the Owls’ special teamers.
A blocked Temple punt was recovered inside the Owls’ 35-yard line in the second quarter and lead to the Tigers’ first points of the night, a 42-yard field goal by Elliott. Following the blocked punt, Temple opted for an in-game fix in which its punter rolled to his right and side-footed the ball, rugby style. The Owls also substituted Alex Starzyk for redshirt junior Tyler Mayes for drop-kicking purposes, too.
Initially, that fix backfired as his first rugby-style kick attempt barely climbed above shoulder height and traveled just 16 yards before hitting one of his teammates. Memphis then used the field position gained by the ineffective punt to march down-field on a drive that took only 27 seconds off the game clock and resulted in a 10-10 tie. Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch found a streaking Brandon Hayes on a 17-yard hookup for the game-tying touchdown.
Punting would remain an adventure for the rest of the game, and screaming line-drive Temple punts twice forced Memphis fumbles. The second of those occurred in the fourth quarter and gave the Owls a chance to pull even at 13-13 at an earlier stage of the game. However, the offense continued to sputter in spite of good field position, and Jones’ second field goal attempt, this one from 37 yards, sailed wide of the uprights. Jones finished 2-for-3 on field goal attempts.
Temple, which was eventually out-gained by Memphis (312-298), mustered enough first downs and yardage to allow Jones a chance to tie the game. The Tigers had just 82 total rushing yards on the night — Brandon Hayes led the team with 75 — and many of those came on what would eventually become the game-winning drive.
Temple quarterback P.J. Walker struggled again, completing just 16 of 32 pass attempts for 140 yards, an interception and numerous balls that were almost picked off. The defense, which held Memphis to just five successful third down conversions on 17 attempts, played well enough to win but the offense couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain. The Owls were just 6-of17 on third down themselves.
Temple returns to action next week against Penn State.