Owls left with only ‘what ifs’ after blowing halftime lead

You wouldn’t have guessed it by looking up at the scoreboard, but this was a game Temple really could have, maybe even should have won.

The Owls kicked visiting Rutgers all over the Linc in the first half of their Big East neighborhood showdown Saturday, but had to settle for only a 10-point halftime lead. That proved to be their undoing, as the Scarlet Knights quickly made them regret coming out for the second half by racking up 223 yards of offense in the third quarter — scoring on drives of 75, 89, 49 — before turning a blocked punt and fumble return into two more scores en route to a deceiving 35-10 rout.

So much for any Temple hopes of staying atop the Big East. Rutgers (7-0 overall, 4-0 Big East), Louisville (7-0, 2-0) and Cincinnati (5-1,1-0) have assumed command.

“You can always ask, ‘What if,'” said freshman linebacker Tyler Matakevich, whose 10 tackles led the Owls for the third straight week. “We came in [at halftime] with high energy. Everyone was focused, ready. Things just didn’t go the way we wanted to.

With an announced 35,145 in the stands and safety Vaughn Carraway suspended for committing a flagrant foul in last week’s win over Connecticut, it came apart after intermission. Rutgers’ Gary Nova proceeded to shred Temple’s makeshift secondary, while Temple’s offense managed just 49 yards.

It left Owls’ coach Steve Addazio completely bewildered.

“What happened there? What was that?,” wondered Addazio, who pulled struggling quarterback Chris Coyer (65 yards, with an interception and two lost fumbles) for Juice Granger. “We had complete and utter control in the first half, and then just had a collapse in the third quarter. It’s one of the worst third quarters I’ve seen in a long time, but I thought they played like a big-time team.”

And after twice rallying in the second half to pull out recent victories, the Owls (3-3, 2-1) got a bitter taste of their own medicine this time.

“We were feeling at halftime like all we had to do was make some plays and we’d get a win,” said Montel Harris, who rushed for 81 yards on 19 carries, “but they executed and we didn’t. It was a sad day in the locker room.”

No controversy

Steve Addazio benched starting QB Chris Coyer with 10:51 left after his second fumble was returned for a touchdown. But don’t expect a quarterback controversy.

“It was a good time for Juice [Granger] to go in there and take some snaps,” he said. “We’ll go back and see what happened.”

Backup Juice Granger went 1-of-3 for seven yards and was nearly intercepted.