Temple coach Matt Rhule and Owls players dissect Saturday's stunning 30-29 loss to Fordham. Listen…
Worst. Loss. Ever.
But it could be argued that Saturday's stunning 30-29 loss to Fordham, dropping the Owls to 0-3 under first-year coach Matt Rhule, was the worst in Temple football's often tortured history.
Michael Nebreth rolled right and floated a pass that Sam Ajala leaped to corral in the right corner of the end zone for a 29-yard TD pass with four seconds remaining in the game and Michael Marando added the extra point to cement the comeback win for the FCS program.
The last 29 yards gave the Rams 520 for the game and while the Owls' defense was once again stellar in the red zone, they gave up several big plays to Nebreth (23-of-36, 320 yards) and running back Carlton Koonce (27 carries, 168 yards).
"I'm sorry you had to watch that," said Rhule. "I'm completely embarrassed. I take 100 percent of the responsibility. We'll get it fixed.
"Their quarterback was outstanding, their receivers were outstanding, but we need to play better. We're going to get this thing fixed right now. On defense we have to overwhelm that team and we did not."
Twice, Nebreth scrambled on fourth down during the final drive and made a first down by the length of half a football. Ajala went out of bounds on the winning touchdown before coming back in, but the referees ruled he was forced out.
"We've been a bend-but-don't-break defense, but giving up the big plays this game and against Notre Dame. … It has to stop," said safety Abdul Smith. "It just kept adding on. I couldn't really tell you (what happened on the final play). I was backside of the cover-2 on the other side of the field and from what I heard, (Ajala) ran out of bounds and came back in and caught it."
The Owls had rallied from a 20-7 second-half deficit behind junior quarterback Connor Reilly, who wasn't expected to play because of a knee injury. Reilly was forced into action after senior Clinton Granger struggled in the first half and Rhule decided to burn true freshman P.J. Walker's redshirt to start the third quarter.
Walker lost nine yards on four runs and was 1-for-3 for 13 yards in two series before Rhule asked Reilly if he thought he could play.
The junior went into the game and led scoring drives on all three of his second-half possessions, giving the Owls a 21-20 lead with a 15-yard run and hitting Chris Coyer for a 7-yard score with 4:34 to play for a 29-23 advantage after the Rams had gone back ahead with a field goal.
"We couldn't get anything going offensively, and Connor just said ‘I'm going in,'" said Rhule. "It felt like if we didn't do something we weren't going to move the football.
"I made the decision I was going to put Juice in and if it didn't go the way I wanted, I was going to go with PJ. I just wanted to go to the next guy, and we'll probably need him sometime this year now. When we put Connor in, it showed who we could be. It should have been that way from the beginning no matter who the quarterback was, but it wasn't and he gave us a spark."
Reilly said the knee was still hurting Thursday and he was designated the emergency quarterback then with the hopes of resting the knee through the bye week.
"It's all right, the drugs are helping right now but we'll see in a couple hours," said Reilly. "(Rhule) asked me if I could go, and I wasn't going to sit out if I had the choice. I was the emergency quarterback and I was coming in if I had to."
Overall, Reilly was 7-for-8 for 69 yards through the air and ran for another 20 even though Rule told him to stay in the pocket to protect his knee. Kenny Harper ran for 105 yards and his fourth touchdown of the season and freshman Zaire Williams added 81 yards.
"We should have won that game," said Williams. "I feel dead inside. I don't like losing. It's not fun. We have to get after it this week."
The kicking game once again played a key role in another loss. While Marando connected on field goals of 44 and 47 yards, Temple freshman Jim Cooper's struggles continued when he hit the left upright on a 23-yard attempt.
Rhule went to another freshman Nick Visco for the next two extra points and said Visco would remain Temple's kicker for the time being. The Owls are 0-for-4 on field goal attempts this year with Cooper 0-for-3 and Paul Layton missing the other.
Temple has a long two weeks ahead before trying to right the ship in a road game at Idaho.
"With the situation, us being 0-3, it's gotta (be among the toughest)," said Coyer."We need this bye week to work on all these little things we're not doing quite right. It has to get done or we're going to continue losing."
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