When the kicking game failed Temple last week, no one seemed to notice. After all, two missed field goals and a blocked point-after weren’t all that separated the Owls from a win against Notre Dame.
But on Saturday, when they helped cost the Owls a victory in their home opener – and contributed to their falling to the Houston Cougars, 22-13, in the inaugural game of the American Athletic Conference – the gaffes were far more noticeable.
“I thought our defense gave us a chance,” Temple coach Matt Rhule said of a unit that kept Houston without a touchdown for 58 minutes. “They gave us a chance to win the football game. But on offense, you’re not going to win the game if you miss a field goal, miss an extra point, and turn the football over like we did.”
The kicking game wasn’t supposed to be a problem for the Owls (0-2, 0-1 AAC). But freshman kicker Jim Cooper, who was good enough to kick in the U.S Army All-American Bowl Game, missed an extra point one week after missing a pair of field-goal attempts and having an extra-point attempt blocked.
This forced Rhule to turn to punter Paul Layton later in the game.
Layton, however, also struggled, missing a 25-yarder in the third quarter that would have given the Owls, who also committed three turnovers, a 16-15 lead.
The missed kicks were dispiriting, especially when you consider the way the defense performed. Although Houston (2-0, 1-0) ran 96 plays, outgained the Owls 524 yards to 300, and rolled up 32 first downs, the Cougars’ eight trips into the red zone yielded just one touchdown.
“I thought we did an excellent job today,” said Owls linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who finished with 11 tackles. “The coaches put in a great game plan and players were making plays. I thought we did an excellent job, but it just wasn’t enough today.”
The Owls’ bend-but-don’t-break defense twice forced the Cougars to settle for a pair of kicker Richie Leone’s five field goals on second-quarter drives that included first downs at Temple’s 10- and 1-yard lines. And in the third quarter, after Houston recovered Owls quarterback Connor Reilly’s fumble at the Temple 8, the Cougars turned over the ball on downs at the 1.
“When we got down there, we gave them some looks and they adjusted,” Houston coach Tony Levine said. “With what we do, we have to get the ball in the end zone.”
That finally happened in the fourth quarter, when Houston strong safety Adrian McDonald snared Reilly’s second interception and returned it 40 yards to the Temple 12. Two plays later, Houston’s Ryan Jackson scored on a 10-yard carry that gave the Cougars a 21-13 lead with 1:06 left in the game.
Jackson led the Cougars with 109 yards rushing on 22 carries. The Cougars alternated between quarterbacks John O’Korn (23 of 31, 233 yards) and David Piland, who passed for 72 yards. When they threw the ball, the Houston quarterbacks’ favorite target was Deontay Greenberry, who caught 14 passes for 165 yards.
Making his second career start, Reilly completed 20 of 38 passes for 200 yards. The Owls struggled running the ball for the second week in a row, gaining just 100 yards on 39 carries.