Temple running back Jager Gardner (27) takes the handoff from quarterback P.J. Walker (11) and runs the ball almost 94 yards for a touchdown against SMU. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
The Temple Owls (7-1,4-0) for the 2nd time this season traveled to the same state, this time also the same city as the other Bird of Prey that roosts @ the Linc, as they travelled to Dallas, TX to face the SMU Mustangs (1-7, 1-4) in an American Athletic Conference tilt. They came into the game as a 10+ favorite and though the final score says they beat that spread, it did not reflect how close and tough this game was for Temple.
In my preview, I suggested that back-up RB Ryquell Armstead would have to step up, but it was FR RB Jager Gardner from Black Mountain, NC (Love you, Robyn) getting his 1st start, who broke the 2nd play from scrimmage 94 yds for the TD, the longest offensive play in Temple history.
The next Temple scoring drive was a bit more leisurely, 6 plays 55 yds, 4:41, helped out by two gift 1st downs from the SMU D, and ended w/ a 6 yd TD pass from P. J. Walker to Robby Anderson to make it 14 -0….. and that was the score at the end of the 1st period. Temple had shut out SMU for the 1st time this season, but that was to change dramatically as the game progressed.
No SDI for the Temple D, but after a few big plays, they did hold the Mustangs to a 31 Yd FG by Chad Hedlund.
Both defenses held sway for quite a few series until SMU, giving Temple a taste of their own trickeration medicine, for a big play to make it 1st and goal, got into the endzone on a 2 yd run by Matt Davis, which capped a 4 play, 57 yd drive. With 6:34 left in the half Temple was still on top 14-10, but SMU had the momentum as after another stout SDI by the Mustangs, they rushed right through the Temple D for another TD, Xavier Jones eventually going 13 yds inexplicably untouched by the top 10 defense, to put SMU ahead 17-14, w/ 4:03 left in the half.
Temple then did what superior teams do and came right back w/ a 10 play, 75 yd 3:39, TD drive of their own as Walker found Romond Deloatch in the end zone from 16 yds out leaving only :24 until half time. The drive featured Walker channeling Houdini, turning another sack into a 12 yd, 1st down run, to their own 37. At the gun the score again favored Temple 21-17, a lead that they never relinquished.
Temple had owned the 2nd half this season outscoring their opponents by 147-39, and showed why by going 9 plays, 75 yds, 4:17 on the opening possession, this time the pass went to Adonis Jennings for a 4 yd TD; 28-17 Temple.
SMU though, showed they have some offensive play makers and answered right back w/ their own long TD drive to cut the Temple lead back to 4.
But back Temple came again, the big play being a 46 yd pass to Anderson to the Mustang 2, and Thomas took it in from there to bump the score back up to 11, 35 – 24 w/ 3:26 left in the 3rd qtr. The Temple D finally helped out by getting the 1st turnover of the game w/ a FF by LB Jarred Alwan recovered by Matt Ioannidis at the SMU 12, but after a holding penalty on 3rd and 2, they had to settle for an Austin Jones 34 yd FG to get a 2 TD lead w/ :23 left in the 3rd.
Once again though Temple could not shut down the big play SMU offense, but neither could SMU stop Temple’s – a 75 yd TD pass by P. J. Walker to the 4th different player in Ventell Bryant.
Momentum seemed to swing again as Temple made a huge mistake, holding in the end zone for a safety and then on the ensuing free kick, SMU’s Braeden West returned it 80 yds for a TD making the Temple lead only 5 points w/ 8:02 to go.
SMU got the ball back w/ 4:57 to go, but on 4th and 4 from the SMU 32, All Everything Tyler Matakevich broke up the pass to give the Owls the ball back w/ 2:22 left and on 3rd and 14, P. J. Walker called his own # behind a great block by Colin Thompson, for a 36 yd TD run, to take all the suspense out of the rest of the game; 53-40 w/ 1:45 left and the Mustangs w/o a time out left. The beleaguered defense added a pick 6 by Sean Chandler so your final score as the clock hit 0:00 was Temple 60, SMU 40.
It was not pretty or easy, and put a hurtin’ on Temple’s defensive rankings, but for a team that was banged up and coming off an emotional, hyped up loss, in the end it was a good win for the Owls to keep them moving forward, to the AAC conference championship game, retaining their top 25 ranking, and a possible NY w/e bowl game.
P. J. Walker had a tremendous night going 18 for 25, 268 yds, 4 passing and 1 rushing TD, and 0 Ints.
FR Jager Gardner was your leading rusher, 6 rushes, 110 yds, 18.3 ypc, mostly from his Owl record 94 yd TD run.
Temple’s top receiver was Ventell Bryant w/ 2 rec for 84 yds and 1 TD.
A few 1sts and long times hard earned, include the first ever 5-0 start on the road, first 8-1 start since ’73, first 5-0 start in conference play since 2009, first win over a Tx team since 1939 (defeated TCU) and win in Texas since 1935 (won at Texas A&M).
Temple (8-1, 5-0) travel for the last time in the regular season, to S. FLA to play AAC Eastern division rival USF (4-4,2-2) on 11/14, kickoff time TBD.