The Temple Owls claws back to beat nationally ranked Cincinnati

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Temple Owls pulled out a big win in overtime against the 20th ranked Cincinnati for their first win against a top-25 opponent of the Geoff Collins-era.

As Anthony Russo lined up in the shotgun on third-and-10 from the Cincinnati 25 yard line, the Temple Owls faithful held their collective breaths.

Locked in a dead heat with the 20th ranked team in the country through four quarters, the Owls offense was handed the first opportunity to strike in overtime.

The redshirt sophomore quarterback forced extra football after placing a perfect touch pass in the hands of fellow sophomore wide receiver Branden Mack en route to the end zone to tie the game with less than a minute remaining in regulation.

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With a field goal unit classified as beyond unstable, the Owls were quite possibly in four down territory. Two plays earlier Russo narrowly missed a wide-open Kenny Yeboah on a similar route.

Despite a shaky afternoon on the day of Temple’s Homecoming festivities, he remained poised when it mattered most, took the snap from center and thread a pass between two defenders into the hands of Isaiah Wright for the score.

An errant snap and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty later, Shaun Bradley intercepted Desmond Ridder’s last-ditch effort on third-and-36 as the Owls took down their nationally ranked conference foe handing coach Geoff Collins his first win against a ranked opponent at Temple.

The Owls capitalized early on two consecutive Bearcat turnovers. A sack fumble that slipped out of Desmond Ridder‘s hands lead to a Temple field goal and Rob Ritrovato forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff quickly resulting with a Russo touchdown pass into the hands of Randle Jones.

Not exactly the start the Bearcats were envisioning coming into the noontime kickoff. Perhaps they were still asleep, but a 10-0 deficit less than five minutes into the game was enough to send a wakeup call to Luke Fickell’s squad: The Owls came ready to play.

But after that raging start, Temple’s offense went dormant. The Owls failed to score for the next 38 minutes of game time. The Owls were without lead running back Ryquell Armstead and, with all the weight on his shoulders, Russo’s early touchdown was a flash of greatness in a pool of mediocrity and inexperience. Russo completed under 50 percent of his pass attempts and threw numerous head-scratchers.

This was his first test against a nationally ranked opponent and though their loss on the road to BC was a close comparison, this was a different ball game. Russo finished the game 20/41 for 237 yards with three costly interceptions but three monumental touchdowns.

This game was the frustration of Russo’s growing pains in a nutshell. One minute he’s slicing and dicing the Cincinnati defense, leading Temple downfield. A handful of beautiful passes capped off by a 47-yard dime piece to Ventell Bryant and he’s placed the Owls in the red zone leading the comeback as they trail 17-10 late in the fourth. Next thing you know he’s throwing a red zone pick on a miscommunication with Bryant to kill the comeback.

After the defense holds the Bearcats to a three-and-out, you’d think Russo would come back and redeem himself. Two plays later, he throws yet another pick on yet another miscommunication with his receiver.

Just as you’re about to throw in the towel and chalk it up as one more near-win against a top-tier opponent, the Temple D forces yet another three-and-out.

You find yourself asking the football gods “Why? Why do you lift me up only to crush down every last bit of sanity within me?”

Then the kid comes through. He leads you on a seven play, 75-yard drive. He completes a 29-yard pass for a first and follows it up with a nine-yard run to move the chains yet again. He scares you with two incompletions.

Then, with less than a minute left in the game, he connects with Mack and sends you off your feet, through the roof. That’s why you need to believe in Anthony Russo.

On a day where Russo and Temple’s offense gained significant exposure on the national spotlight including an early morning Kirk Herbstreit shout-out on ESPN’s College Gameday, the defense lurks in the shadows.

When the highlights are played, you won’t see the three-and-outs. You won’t see the constant pressure the Owls front four placed on Ridder, limiting the third highest rated quarterback in the AAC, a dual-threat option, to 111 yards through the air and just nine yards on the ground.

The Owls defense forced six three-and-outs in the game. Four of those came down the stretch in the final 20 minutes of regulation along with a turnover on downs, a meaningless five play drive with a first down at the end of regulation and the game-ending interception.

They kept the Owls in it every time the offense tried to throw it away and they are the reason that Temple came out of this battle victorious. You won’t see that on the national spotlight and they don’t care.

The lone bright spot for the Cincinnati came on the ground via the legs of Michael Warren II who catapulted to the top three in AAC rushing yards after compiling 132 yards and a touchdown in 25 attempts.

Freshman Charles McClelland tagged in for a gut-wrenching 42-yard touchdown run that, at the time, felt as if it shut the lid, hammered the nails, dug the hole and buried the coffin of the Owls’ chances to take down a nationally ranked opponent at home.

In the end, the Temple Owls prevailed and picked up a monstrous win on Homecoming at the Linc. This is only the beginning, but there is no better way to start a difficult four-game stretch than spoiling a conference rival’s undefeated season while simultaneously knocking them out of the national rankings.

The road only gets more difficult from here as the Owls travel south after their bye week to take on “defending national champion” UCF in Orlando. The Knights are ranked 10th in the country and that’s likely to change following Purdue’s stunning upset of number two Ohio State in West Lafayette.

Now granted, the bye week will certainly help, but this matchup is certainly shaping up to be the greatest challenge of the Collins-era, and should be considered a must watch match, regardless of your college football preferences.

Next. Growing pains shape the future for Anthony Russo, Temple football. dark

A win in Orlando would give the Owls a fighting chance for a spot in the AAC championship game, but that’s getting way ahead of ourselves. For now just sit back, bask in the glory and enjoy the spotlight Owls fans.