Oh boy... where to begin...
The game began as we expected it would. Cincinnati got the ball first, and quickly went three-and-out before Temple did essentially the same in six plays themselves. The next Cincinnati possession was the first sign of things to come, when a promising drive came to a resounding halt with a Hosey Williams fumble.
Turnover number one.
Temple took over, after the fumble, and gained the early lead, 3-0, on a field goal. Cincinnati took over again, stalling out after 11 plays. That drive ended in another headache for Bearcats fans with a missed field goal, albeit a difficult 53-yarder.
At this point in the first half, Cincinnati began to settle down and the defensive struggle we anticipated began to reveal itself with Temple punting on their next two offensive possessions, after three-and-outs, and Cincinnati scoring field goals on their next two drives, which were 13 and 14-play drives, respectively. Momentum had shifted ever so slightly to the home team.
Temple's final drive of the first half was, ultimately, the beginning of the end... we just didn't realize it. As we outlined in the Game Preview, the Temple offense is triggered by the play of running back Jahad Thomas. Thomas, quiet in the early-going, fought his way to 32 yards on the ground and 22 through the air on that one 10-play drive for the Owls, which ended in a 1-yard touchdown pass from P.J. Walker to Michael Felton. This gave Temple a 10-6 lead going into half.
Well... this is where that "defensive struggle" turned into a shootout. With Temple receiving the opening second half kickoff, Thomas - that guy who is pretty important to Temple's scoring output - took the kick 100 yards for a touchdown and a quick 17-6 lead.
Gunner Kiel and Mckale McKay responded quickly, hooking up for a huge 88-yard touchdown on Cincinnati's second offensive play from scrimmage in the second half. The Bearcats went for the two-point conversion to pull within three and failed. The score stopped the bleeding momentarily, but Cincinnati still looked off guard by Temple's energy to start the second half. And it continued...
Two plays was all that was needed for Temple to answer Kiel and McKay, with a 56-yard touchdown run for Thomas. Temple onside kicked the following kickoff and recovered, but couldn't capitalize. It didn't matter though as the Cincinnati offense struggled to keep the ball out of Temple's hands.
On Cincinnati's next two possessions, Kiel threw interceptions. The first was a tip-drill interception by Tyler Matakevich and the second was gift-wrapped to Alex Wells on a play where Kiel evidently didn't see him at all.
Turnover number two and three.
Temple scored a touchdown and field goal off of the turnovers and the game felt over at 34-12 with fans leaving the stadium and the fourth quarter remaining.
Cincinnati clawed back though, scoring a touchdown, largely on the shoulders of Tion Green and then forced Temple to punt on their next possession. Cincinnati's subsequent seven-play drive ended in another Kiel interception, this time to Sean Chandler. Chandler played a great game for the Owls overall.
Turnover number four.
Temple continued to run the clock, but couldn't close out the Bearcats. The Owls went three-and-out, punted and the Bearcats went 80 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown, putting Cincinnati within striking distance, 34-26.
As time ticked down, the Bearcats forced and recovered a Thomas fumble, giving Cincinnati one final chance. The final Cincinnati drive was helped along by penalties on Temple, but from the Temple 5, another Kiel pass was tipped up and intercepted by Matakevich, ending the game.
Turnover number five.
- Cincinnati was sloppy. I was under the impression that the little mistakes from a week ago were going to be shored up and were merely a product of season opener nerves. Well... evidently not. Kiel threw four interceptions, Williams fumbled once, the kickoff team gave up an 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, gave up an onside kick that they simply weren't prepared for and even the missed 53-yard field goal can be lumped into that. Did you follow all that?
- Temple won the average field position battle behind the leg of punter Alex Starzyk. Temple's average starting position was the Temple 44. Cincinnati's was their own 22. Temple played the game they wanted to play, forcing turnovers, running the ball as well as they needed to and winning field position comfortably.
- Speaking of mistakes and special teams, the Cincinnati special teams has now made major mistakes in each of the first two games between allowing a blocked punt last week and the kick return, missed field goal and onside kick recovery this week.
- Kiel struggled. Uhh... yeah Blaine, we know that. Kiel finished up going 30-of-52 for 427 yards passing, two touchdowns and the four picks. That should point to his struggles anyway, but there was even more that the stats don't show. Kiel's decision-making looked bad. Two of those interceptions were tipped passes (the last one probably shouldn't have been thrown) but the other two were just blatantly bad. Kiel either didn't see the defender or the throw felt forced. In fact, there were a number of throws that were equally as dangerous that weren't picked off. That said, Temple's defense does a number of things that are meant to confuse quarterbacks and disguise coverages. Still, whether it was Kiel or miscommunication with his receivers, the passing game is inconsistent right now, despite the gaudy yardage totals.
- On the plus side, the offensive line played very well for the Bearcats. They only allowed one sack to a defense that earned 10 last week. It was abundantly clear that Cincinnati's offensive line is much better than the Nittany Lions' naturally, but nonetheless, the Bearcats knew Temple would try to confuse them upfront and they were ineffective in that goal. That said, there were times where Kiel seemed a little "jumpy" in the pocket, which is the technical term for "rushed". There's always some room to grow, but Cincinnati's offensive line did everything they needed to do for a Cincinnati win.
- In Kiel's defense, the script was flipped. Cincinnati wanted the run game established early on to keep the Owls from just sitting back in coverage. While Cincinnati racked up 130 rushing yards as a team, Cincinnati was playing too much catch-up against a great Temple defense. Kiel made some poor decisions and bad throws, but a number of them were situation dependent. They were pressing against a defense that was literally sitting back in coverage, waiting for pick opportunities.
- Temple has a good one in Thomas. The running back had the 100-yard kickoff return and carried the ball 26 times, for 193 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers are a little inflated due to big-plays, but nonetheless, he was rocking it. Cincinnati's defense was solid overall, but they didn't do enough to bottle up Thomas the entire night (see third quarter). Turnovers killed the Bearcats, but Cincinnati could have still won despite every single one of them, if not for Thomas' big plays.
- Cincinnati has a good one themselves in Green. There's no point in looking too much into the "who will run away with the job" narrative, but Green was instrumental in pulling the game close at the end with some key receptions and runs, displaying good elusiveness to pick up extra yardage. It's still a committee approach, and Hosey Williams looked good outside of his fumble, but Green made some good plays down the stretch.
- Kiel threw the ball 52 times for 427 yards while Walker threw the ball 20 times for 81 yards and two touchdowns. Forget what you know about game-managers in football. Walker is the new dictionary definition for the term.
1st Downs: Temple - 13, Cincinnati - 34
3rd Down Efficiency: Temple - 5/13, Cincinnati - 7/11
Total Yards: Temple - 296, Cincinnati - 557
Passing Yards: Temple - 81, Cincinnati - 427
Rushing Yards: Temple - 215, Cincinnati - 130
Turnovers: Temple - 1, Cincinnati - 5
Penalties (#/Yards): Temple - 12/112, Cincinnati - 5/51
This was an odd game. Watching the game, particularly the second half, you knew Temple was in control. In fact, it felt - and looked - like a complete blowout until Cincinnati pieced together a couple late scoring drives in their last-ditch effort. While the game felt that way, if you consult the above stats, Cincinnati won the game of numbers, outside of that pesky turnover stat of course.
The stats do lie a bit. Cincinnati was trailing and Temple was almost too cautious throughout the second half on both sides of the ball, allowing the Bearcats to rack up yardage and key on the Temple run game exclusively. Still, Cincinnati doubled the Owls in first downs, nearly doubled their total yardage and even had half the penalty yardage. Five turnovers (two in the redzone) and special teams mistakes, at terribly inopportune times, killed them.
It's back to the drawing board for the Bearcats with the mighty (that's a joke) Miami (OH) RedHawks on the horizon next Saturday. The mistakes need to be shored up and the offense needs to turn massive yardage totals into more consistent redzone points.