PHILADELPHIA – Temple owned the real estate, but Army was paying the taxes. And they were out of sight. By the end of the first half, so was the game.
“The guys got down on themselves, because we were down by four touchdowns in the first half,” Army coach Rich Ellerson said. “With multiple turnovers today, it’s going to be tough to win the battle. We couldn’t generate pressure on defense, because they changed up a lot of things by forcing the ball towards the middle. We gave up a score on offense and then turned the ball over in scoring position, but I thought we did our best to fight back."
But not remotely enough. Temple scored touchdowns on its first two possessions and took advantage of some incredibly sloppy Army play to take a 26-0 halftime lead. The Black Knights did show up for the second half, but couldn't do enough to get back into it, losing 33-14 at Lincoln Financial Field.
It went from bad to worse for Army, and it didn’t take much time. On Temple’s first possession, a 45-yard pass from P.J. Walker to Jalen Fitzpatrick brought the ball to the 1. Kenneth Harper scored on the next play and he did so in the manner in which all Owls running backs and receivers did all day – shaking off tackle after tackle, turning seemingly short runs and catches into some big gains.
“That first drive they got the big pass,” Army linebacker Colby Miller said. “We just couldn’t stop the big play and that hurt us.”
“When you face the option, you have to get up on offense,” said first-year Temple coach Matt Rhule, who won his first game after an 0-6 start. “I thought for P.J.’s confidence to go out and make the plays that he made gave him some momentum. I knew we had to come out fast last week on offense. I knew we had to start fast because kids are kids, and they will get down. Starting fast gave us some momentum, and the defense kept answering the bell which was outstanding.”
The first time Army had the ball, it was able to advance as far as the Temple 43 before having to punt. That drive included two of only five first-half plays the Black Knights ran while in Temple territory. But as Alex Tardieu’s 42-yard punt resulted in Temple starting from its own 1-yard line, some reasonable expectation existed that Army could get the ball back with decent field position.
Three running plays gave the Owls a first down and a little breathing room and Walker’s 11-yard completion to Robby Anderson gave them even more so. Walker then completed a 30-yard pass to Fitzpatrick, but Temple lost 10 yards off the play with an illegal-block penalty. No matter. Five plays later, with the ball at the Army 37, Walker and Fitzpatrick got together for another touchdown pass that left Temple with a 14-0 lead. In just his second start, the freshman quarterback ended the game having completed 11 of 16 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns.
“P.J. brings an added confidence,” Fitzpatrick said. “He has a great arm. At the quarterback position he brings more legs than others and he can stretch the pocket a little bit more. Since he’s been here, I’ve noticed he has a great touch on the ball. His deep ball is one of his greatest strengths so far this year and I think it will continue to be his strength.”
“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.”
It was on Army’s first possession of the second quarter that spelled doom for the rest of the game. Quarterback Angel Santiago had a short, 4-yard run, but the cost was reaggravating the sore left ankle he hurt two weeks ago against Boston College. He was helped off the field and was unable to return.
“We have the other quarterbacks and we’ve taken a lot of reps with them,” Army fullback Larry Dixon said.
It didn’t show. Santiago was replaced by Kelvin White and, for a short time in the third quarter, Tevin Long, but the first half continued to be Temple’s sole property.
It took just three plays and 64 seconds for Temple to take a 20-0 lead when Walker hit John Christopher for a 39-yard TD pass. Then, on Army’s first play on its subsequent possession, White tried a pitch to Trenton Turrentine, but the ball was flipped somewhat askew and Turrentine was unable to control it. Temple linebacker Nate Smith did, and he picked up the loose ball and ran for a 19-yard touchdown.
“It was crazy,” Smith said. “I just jumped in the pile and happened to roll over when the ball just popped up. I just grabbed it and took off. It was a great feeling.”
The Army offense under Santiago had gone 252 straight plays without a turnover. That was the first of the game; not even close to the last.
“Turnovers are a big deal,” Ellerson said. “If we don’t turn the ball over, then we have a chance at winning this game. Taking away 13 points that they got off of us, then that finish is a little bit more interesting. We were well prepared, but they capitalized on our mistakes.”
That second touchdown that Army gift wrapped came under Long’s purview. On the first play of an early third-quarter drive, Long fumbled the snap, but fullback Larry Dixon recovered it. No such luck two plays later, when another Long fumble was recovered by Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich at the Army 21. Harper ran for six, then Zaire Williams did the rest, rushing for a 15-yard touchdown and a 33-0 lead.
Army finally got on the board with one of its customary ground-based drives, though the touchdown was scored on the drive’s only pass, a 14-yard completion from White to Patrick Laird, Laird’s first catch of the season. The Black Knights, 3-5, completed the scoring on their next possession, set up by a 32-yard sideline run by White. An 8-yard completion to Larry Dixon was first ruled a touchdown, but the replay set the ball back to the ½-yard line. White took it in on the next play. Army’s next two drives were cut short by White interceptions.
“We need to play very well to be competitive in this game. That’s who we are,” Ellerson said. “We aren’t who we are when it’s oops, oops, oops.”
Army was facing a team that was winless entering the game, and Ellerson emphasized earlier in the week that he did not believe that would lead to overconfidence, and that seemed to be the case. Come right down to it, they just plain got outplayed.
“I thought we would play our style, but the opponent played well,” he said. “We weren’t who we normally are, which is that poised, precise, detailed team.”