Entering their fourth AAC conference game of the season, Temple was projected to be in a major bowl game, the Military Bowl, and many looked for the Owls to bounce back after the 31-17 letdown against Houston. UCF is universally known as the reigning Fiesta Bowl champs and despite losing stud QB Blake Bortles and RB Storm Johnson, their still a perennial bowl contender in the AAC.
The Owls’ retribution never materialized Saturday with UCF storming out of their hypothetical fortress gate’s early. J.J. Worton, last year’s hero in Philly who made the catch of the year, started things off with a 25 yard TD reception on the opening drive.
The turnover bug inflicted the Owls once again in the first with senior wideout Jalen Fitzpatrick uncharacteristially putting the ball on the ground on their own 11. The Owls’ D held the Knights to field goal subsequently.
UCF’s defense was lockdown in the first and held Temple’s anemic offense to a punt with the Knights getting the ball on the Owls’ 42. Workhorse RB William Stanback barreled his way into the end zone on the drive with the Knight’s up 17 only in the first.
Sophomore QB P.J. Walker, coming off a disappointing performance against Houston, led the Owls’ back on the following drive with a three yard hook-up to 6’4 WR Romond Deloatch to cut the lead to 10. QB Justin Holman led the charge with a 54 yard completion to breakout WR Breshad Perriman, who went untouched after the catch, and found the end zone burning the secondary.
Special teams ace Samuel Benjamin wouldn’t let the onslaught continue as the wideout blocked his second punt of the season and recovered it for a TD. In any possible way, the Owls’ needed to put points on the board. UCF tacked on a field goal to end the half and took the 27-14 into halftime while controlling the first two quarters of the game.
On the opening drive of the second half, Walker was picked off by corner Jordan Ozerites. Coach Matt Rhule wasted no time bringing in former starter Connor Reilly to mount a comeback for the Owls. The senior was inept at formulating drives. Stanback later bulldozed his way again on a two yard handoff finding the end zone and put the Knights up big 34-14 in the third.
In a bizarre turn of events, Worton fumbled the Temple punt on the next drive twice and was recovered by emerging DE Sharif Finch to set up the Owls in UCF territory. With Temple inches from the goal line, Walker, like clockwork, made an asinine decision at the goal line and was picked off once again to make the outcome clear.
With a 34-14 victory in hand, UCF controlled the clock like they did in the first half and capped off their third conference win and fifth victory overall on the year.
Some highlights on the Owl’s side, Praise Martin Oguike and Averee Robinson had a sack and force fumble respectively while Sam Benjamin once again made plays on the least relative side of the ball.
Credit the UCF defense and clock management, the Owls’ put up their lowest total yards on the year with only 182. The offense relied on too many gadget plays to set up their outside receivers and with no downfield threat, the Knight’s diagnosed the short yardage plays leading to three-and-outs on the day.
This is evident with wideouts Jalen Fitzpatrick and John Christopher, their main targets, putting up averages lower than 4.3 on receptions. Getting Walker on the outside of the pocket, whether it be on a bootleg on read option pass, is essential in formulating substantial drives and putting up numbers against dominant defenses similar to UCF’s.
QB Justin Holman put up 336 yards through the air with Perriman hauling in 146 on seven receptions. Was the dominant Temple defense fans witnessed earlier in the season an aberration, or have they showed their true form and only excel against weaker opponents?
Those questions will be answered as the Owls’ face their most daunting task to date against Shane Carden and the 18th ranked ECU Pirates (6-1, 3-0) Saturday at the Linc.