While the Temple offense put up a lot of big numbers in its 33-14 victory over Army on Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, the biggest number was the small number of points allowed by the Temple defense.
Against an Army squad that came in averaging 26.4 points per game, and scored 50 in a runaway victory over Eastern Michigan last weekend, the Owls pitched a shutout for nearly three quarters.
By the time the Black Knights scored their first touchdown, the Owls had a 33-0 lead.
“I thought the story of the game was the defense,” said Temple Coach Matt Rhule, who enjoyed an icy-cold Gatorade shower following his first head coaching victory. “They just kept answering the bell.”
Though they had beaten the Black Knights (3-5) each of the past five years, this was a scary opponent for the Temple defense, which has been plagued by mistakes and missed assignments throughout the 2013 campaign.
But the roles were reversed on Saturday, as the Owls (1-6) were fundamentally sound on defense (and offense), while the Black Knights were flustered by fumbles and negative plays.
Two of Army’s first three drives were short-circuited by penalties. And when the Temple defense made its lone big mistake of the first half, allowing tailback Terry Baggett to slip free on a long pass route, Baggett dropped the ball.
The Owls also made a number of big stops.
Army drove into Temple territory on its first possession, before Shahbaz Ahmed dropped Trenton Turrentine for a two-yard loss on a 3rd-and-2 rushing attempt.
Trailing 14-0 in the second quarter, Army got the ball on its own 5, and lost three more yards when freshman safety Jihaad Pretlow tackled Baggett for a three-yard loss.
Offensively, the Owls established their running game with Kenneth Harper and Zaire Williams early, and got two big pass plays from P.J. Walker to Jalen Fitzpatrick to establish an early lead.
Two minutes into the game, Walker hit Fitzpatrick deep down the middle for a 45-yard gain. Harper’s one-yard score gave the Owls the lead.
On their next possession, facing 3rd-and-1 at the Army 37, Walker faked the run and threw another deep ball to Fitzpatrick, who stayed one step ahead of two Army defenders and hauled in the TD pass.
“Playing against the option, I knew we needed to start fast,” Rhule said. “And this was really the first game where we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot early on offense, where we didn’t play losing football before we played winning football.”
While the Owls moved the ball consistently, the Black Knights really struggled after starting quarterback Angel Santiago left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury.
And Temple took advantage.
Walker hit a wide-open John Christopher for a 39-yard score late in the second quarter, and moments later the Owls scored again when Nate Smith picked up an Army fumble and raced for a touchdown.
Temple had a 26-0 lead and outgained Army, 291-93, in the first half.
Another Black Knight fumble put the Owls in scoring position early in the third quarter. Williams cashed in with a 15-yard TD run.