The thing about bye weeks during the football season is that they can do one of two things. After a win, especially when it’s desperately needed, a week off can provide a physical and mental salve that makes the aches and pains a little easier to take.
And then there is the ugliness and grief that come after a bad loss, which is what Temple suffered Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Hosting feisty Fordham of the Football Championship Subdivision, the Owls fell behind early, rallied, and then gave up the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds for a 30-29 loss.
The defeat dropped the Owls, who don’t play again until they visit Idaho on Sept. 28, to 0-3. It is their worst start since they dropped five straight to begin the 2007 season.
“I’m sorry you had to watch that,” said Matt Rhule, still in search of his first victory as Temple’s coach. “I’m going to shoot to you straight: I’m embarrassed you had to watch that. I take 100 percent responsibility for that. I told the players to take responsibility for it and we’ll get it fixed.
“But at the end of the day we have to overwhelm that team, especially on defense, and we did not.”
Against the Owls, Fordham (3-0) looked every bit as good as FBS teams Houston and Notre Dame, the other teams that have wins over the Owls. Those teams averaged 535.5 yards against the Owls. The Rams, who last week defeated Villanova, gained 520 yards.
The biggest beneficiaries of the Owls’ soft defense were the two Fordham players they knew they had to contain: running back Carlton Koonce (Rancocas Valley), and quarterback Michael Nebrich. Koonce, behind adept zone blocking by his offensive line, gained 182 yards on 27 carries. He also scored on a 16-yard run in the second quarter.
And with the Owls unable to generate much of a pass rush, Nebrich completed 23 of 36 passes for 320 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“They got a lot of big plays and picked up lots of yardage on big plays,” said Temple safety Abdul Smith. “This type of loss has to be a breaking point. The offense put up a lot of points today. I put this on the defense.”
The Owls’ defensive ineffectiveness was on display on Fordham’s game-winning drive. Down by 29-23, the Rams drove 71 yards on 13 plays, finishing with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Nebrich to Sam Ajala with just 4 seconds left.
On the drive, twice facing fourth down, a scampering Nebrich moved the chains on runs of 2 and 6 yards.
“We had a lead, but give Temple credit,” Nebrich said. “They fought back but we kept on fighting. This is a nice win for us today.”
The Owls used three quarterbacks, including injured starter Connor Reilly. Reilly (knee) went into the game as the emergency quarterback. Replacement Clinton Granger had done little to move the offense in the first half.
Rhule then turned to freshman P.J. Walker, but Walker, who was under heavy pressure from the Fordham front seven for two series, was unable to generate any offense.
Desperate to give his team a chance to win, Rhule turned to Reilly late in the third quarter with the Owls down, 20-7.
“He asked me, ‘Can you go?’ ” Reilly said. “I said ‘Absolutely.’ But it wasn’t enough. Give credit to Fordham for just beating us today.”