The dumbfounding losses continue.
The Temple football team took a 21-0 halftime lead on Senior Night against winless Connecticut, but saw the Huskies score the last 28 points of the game in a stunning defeat that dropped the Owls to 1-10 and kept them winless in the American Athletic Conference.
“I’m extremely frustrated and angry at the way we played in the second half,” said coach Matt Rhule. “I’m disappointed for all the fans and loyal students that came out to watch us play. I just told the team what I really think. … At the end of the day, you can’t win football games if you’re going to turn the ball over and commit penalties.
“They just out-played us in the second half. I didn’t think we played good football in the second half.”
Yawin Smallwood’s 59-yard interception return for a touchdown with 4:20 to play snapped a 21-all tie and sent the Huskies to their first victory. The Owls’ defeat came on the heels of last-minute losses to Central Florida and Rutgers in the last two games, as well as blown second-half leads against Houston, SMU and Fordham and a two-point loss at Idaho.
“It started in the first half, the offense had a couple turnovers and couldn’t put them away,” said senior safety Abdul Smith. “We just don’t have that killer instinct yet. Then in the second half, the defense couldn’t get stops, the offense couldn’t score.
“They made some adjustments. We played the same defenses, played it safe defensively in the second half. … We just couldn’t finish. We just need more guys to have that killer instinct so we can win these games.”
At this point, the season needs to end for the sanity of all involved, so the young nucleus can start getting ready for a turnaround next year. That will happen once the Owls’ 2013 campaign concludes next week at Memphis, where the Owls will make their final bid for an American Athletic Conference victory this season.
Down three touchdowns, the Huskies didn’t go feebly into the frigid night, taking the second-half kickoff and driving 75 yards in six plays, capped by a 33-yard TD pass from Casey Cochran to Geremy Davis.
Then near the end of the third quarter, UConn converted a big fourth down with a 16-yard pass to the Owls’ 9-yard line and Max DeLorenzo scored on a 4-yard run three plays later to make it a one-possession game.
Temple gift-wrapped the game-tying score. A hands-to-the-face penalty on defensive tackle Hershey Walton set UConn up with a first down on the Owls’ 18 when it should have been fourth-and-5.
When the Huskies threw an ill-conceived, under-thrown fade on fourth down from the 1, cornerback Anthony Robey was called for pass interference when he didn’t turn around. The Owls then made three consecutive stops from the 1 before quarterback Casey Cochran went in for the score on a misdirection play that tied the game at 21 with 6:52 to play.
“I just have to get my hands off (Davis) in that situation,” said Robey of the penalty that extended the drive. “We just have to come out in the second half like we did in the first half. We just didn’t come out to play. It’s imperative to play four quarters of football.
“We have to work on it in the offseason, this week. … Playing four quarters of football.”
With the game tied, Walker and the Owls reached the UConn 44 before Smallwood picked off the pass to give the Huskies their first lead. It was Walker’s third turnover of the game as he also lost two fumbles.
“I didn’t anticipate the window being closed (on the interception), I should have held onto the ball and waited for someone else to come open,” said Walker, who was 26-of-46 for 289 yards and ran for 32 yards. “The fumbles were all on me. Just holding the ball with one hand. … I should have had two hands on the ball. I made bad decisions. It’s all on me.”
Senior wide receiver Ryan Alderman (seven catches, 96 yards) had a big performance in his last time playing at the Linc. He caught three passes on the opening drive, which ended with a missed 27-yard Nick Visco field goal attempt.
On Temple’s third possession, Alderman worked his way open deep downfield for a 36-yard reception to the 6-yard line on third-and-27. The drive started when Smith collected the first interception of his career, setting the Owls up on the 23 before they went backwards with a holding penalty and two sacks.
Walker finished the drive with a 6-yard TD run. The Owls then scored on their next two possessions, with Walker connecting with Robby Anderson on an 8-yard score where the sophomore fought his way into the end zone for a 14-0 advantage.
After a bad punt snap resulted in a minus-9 yard punt and Temple possession on the UConn 18-yard line, freshman running back Zaire Williams went off left tackle for an 18-yard score and 21-0 lead the Owls took into the half.
But they didn't score again and played the second half without receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick (broken hand) and tight end Chris Parthemore (shoulder), which didn't help matters.
“We can’t keep talking about (a killer instinct) and not doing it,” said Walker. “We have to show one time we have it.”