Temple blows big lead, finds latest way to lose

Temple blows big lead, finds latest way to lose
November 24, 2013, 2:00 am
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Yawin Smallwood scores the eventual game-winning touchdown for UConn after intercepting Temple's P.J. Walker and running it back 59 yards in the fourth quarter of the Huskies' win. (USA Today Images)


They're inventing ways to lose.

They being the Temple Owls, who have blown so many second-half leads this year that they're now going about it in style.

After last-minute loses in close games against Rutgers and UCF in their last two games, Temple decided on Saturday night -- Senior Night of all nights -- that it'd jump out to a 21-point lead before letting it all unravel.

Which, sure enough, it did. Again.

On a cold, windy and eventually altogether miserable night at Lincoln Financial Field, Temple gave up 28 unanswered points in the second half to lose to a previously winless UConn, 28-21 (see Instant Replay). UConn, which was one loss short of setting an all-time program record for consecutive losses with what would have been 11.

So as to make each of these late-game collapses progressively more gut-wrenching, freshman quarterback P.J. Walker threw the game-winning pass with 4:20 to play in the fourth quarter … to UConn linebacker Yawin Smallwood.

Trying to retake the lead with the game tied 21-21, Walker stared down a receiver, Smallwood read his eyes, Smallwood jumped the rout, and Smallwood took the ball back 59 yards into the end zone. It was Walker's third turnover of the game, following two previous fumbles.

"I didn't anticipate the window to close like that," Walker said. "I should have just held onto the ball."

With the way this season's been going, something else would have gone wrong.

But in this case, the pick-six and subsequent loss drops Temple to 1-10 overall and a winless 0-7 in the American. Temple hasn't won a league game since Oct. 13 of last year when it beat -- go figure -- UConn, when the programs were still in the Big East.

What Temple has done is blow six second-half leads this season, including four in the fourth quarter.

Senior safety Abdul Smith on what separates Temple from the Los Angeles Lakers (just hear him out):

"I feel like some guys on the team have it and some guys don't," he said, referring to a killer instinct. "You watch Kobe Bryant -- I hate that guy -- but he's got a killer instinct. If we got more guys on the team with a killer instinct, we would win these last four games we were up in and found a way to lose."

Found a way is probably the best way to put it. Temple led SMU at the half, Rutgers in the fourth quarter, and UCF (by 10) with with 2:04 to play. Add UConn to the list and that's four games in a row the Owls failed to close.

After the game, first-year head coach Matt Rhule stood at the podium answering questions, and you could almost see an outline of him standing there again … beside himself.

"I'm extremely frustrated and angry at the way we played in the second half," he said.

He also said a lot after that, but everyone's been down this road before, six times this season. There isn't a whole lot left that's fresh.

Temple can't close games, mostly because its defense struggles in coverage. That's the overarching theme. The only change from week-to-week is how exactly the Owls go about blowing these leads.

Saturday night's story -- like it's been most every other time -- is once again riveting. Even the offense, which recorded negative-one rushing yard in the second half, shares some blame this time.

Temple jumped out to a 21-0 lead and absolutely mauled UConn through the first two quarters. The Owls outgained the Huskies, 271-64, in the first 30 minutes.

And then, for whatever reason, just didn't show up for the second half, giving up four unanswered touchdowns. The third one, a one-yard run by UConn quarterback Casey Cochran that tied the game with 6:52 to play, serves as a metaphor for the season.

Temple stopped UConn on 3rd-and-goal from the 1, and again on 4th-and-goal when Cochran's fade to the corner fell incomplete. But Owls corner Anthony Robey, who was beat on a play that set up UCF's game-winning field goal last week, was called for pass interference, giving UConn four more cracks from the 1.

Temple stopped UConn on the ensuing first, second and third downs. Just not on fourth, when Cochran finally got in.

Once again, one play away.

"I'm disappointed for all the fans and loyal students that came out to watch us play," Rhule said. "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 have penalties.

"They just outplayed us in the second half. We had turnovers and penalties and every time we got a stop, we allowed them to convert on fourth down. I didn't think we played good football in the second half."

Just to clarify, those quotes are from Saturday night's game. Even if they apply to just about every other game Temple's played this season.

The Owls keep saying they just have to finish. If you're getting tired of hearing it, they're getting tired of saying it.

"We can't keep talking about it and not doing it," Walker said. "We have to show one time that we have it. That is what it really is -- showing everyone that we can really do it."

They'll have one more chance, in their final game of the year, at Memphis next week.