Coach Steve Addazio has stressed over and over again that you can’t turn the ball over and win. In the game against Toledo on Saturday, the Owls turned the ball over four times in the Rockets’ 36-13 rout.
“The tale of the game is the turnovers,” Addazio said. “We lost momentum and never seemed to regain it.”
The Toledo offense cut up the Owls’ defense all game as Rockets’ running back senior Morgan Williams and sophomore David Fluellen combined for 255 yards rushing and receiving to go along with three touchdowns.
“It’s just fun to get out there with the other seniors and the other players and make plays,” Williams said. “It’s fun playing football.”
The Rockets’ offensive and defensive lines dominated in the trenches all game. Fluellen and Williams averaged 5.1 and 6.1 yards per carry, respectively, and Owls’ senior-redshirt quarterback Chester Stewart was hurried during the game and sacked twice by the Rockets’ defensive line.
Specifically, the Toledo defense shut down junior running back Bernard Pierce who entered the game with nearly 700 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
“We knew we had to tackle and gang tackle,” Rockets’ junior defensive end T.J. Fatinikun said. “We heard about all the things [Pierce] had done.”
Despite their overall game woes, the Owls’ offense got off to a fast start. After forcing a Toledo three and out on the Rockets’ first possession, the Owls quickly drove down the field before a 30-yard field goal by Owls’ junior placekicker Brandon McManus gave the Cherry and White a quick lead. The Owls have scored first in four out of their five games so far this season.
“We came out of the blocks pretty quick, and that felt great,” Addazio said.
But two costly Temple turnovers allowed Toledo to erase the Owls’ lead as quickly as they gained it.
After Temple forced a second-straight Toledo three and out, junior punt returner Matt Brown fumbled the punt and the Rockets took over within striking distance. Three plays later Rockets’ junior quarterback Austin Dantin rushed up the middle for a touchdown and a Toledo lead. After the game, both Addazio and several Temple players pointed to Brown’s fumble as a crucial turning point.
“As leaders we try to keep our guys up, but it is definitely a momentum swing for them to get a short field and quick score,” Stewart said. “That hurts a team and is hard to come back from.”
“It’s one play,” Addazio added. “It seemed like momentum got away from us at that point, and that was awful early for that to happen.”
Stewart threw a pass, intercepted by Rockets’ sophomore safety Ross Madison and returned to the Temple 41-yard line, towards the end of the first quarter that lead to another quick Toledo score. The Cherry and White defense were unable to overcome the short field position as Williams burst through the Owls’ defense for a 32-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive.
“When you turn the ball over, you lose possessions,” Addazio said. “That momentum jerked on us right there, and we didn’t get that back.”
The Owls battled back in the second quarter facing a 12-point deficit. Stewart passed to senior tight end Evan Rodriguez on the first play of the quarter for a 55-yard touchdown. After forcing a Toledo punt, the Owls drove into the Rockets’ territory on their next possession. McManus’ second field goal of the day, a 37-yarder, brought the Owls to within three points.
But some Rockets’ trickery along with a costly Owls’ penalty gave Toledo a nine-point lead before halftime. A 15-yard penalty against Owls’ sophomore defensive tackle Levi Brown on the Rockets’ second drive of the second quarter preceded a reverse pass to Rockets’ redshirt-freshman backup quarterback Dwight Macon that went for 33 yards and a Toledo touchdown.
“We didn’t stop them,” senior defensive end Adrian Robinson said. “As a captain and as a leader, I will make sure everything is fixed.”
The Owls drove into Rockets’ territory as the first half ended, but McManus missed a 46-yard field goal in the last minute. Toledo entered halftime with a nine-point lead after scoring fifteen points off turnovers.
“You can’t turn the ball over,” Addazio said. “We turned it over four times.”
Toledo refused to let the Owls come back early in the third quarter. After forcing Temple to punt on their first third-quarter possession, the Rockets executed a methodic eight play, 58-yard drive that resulted in a 20-yard touchdown pass to Fluellen that gave Toledo a 16-point lead.
“They were a great team,” Owls’ senior safety Kevin Kroboth said. “Their record doesn’t show how good they are. They have some really good players that know how to make people miss.”
The Owls’ offense couldn’t get anything going in the second half. After back-to-back three and outs on their first two possessions, the Owls turned the ball over for the third time on their third drive. Pierce fumbled after gaining 33 yards on a screen and the ball was recovered by Toledo and ruined any chance of the Owls scoring in the third quarter.
“The turnover on the screen play that brought us back to the plus side of the field really hurt us,” Addazio said. “That was our opportunity to try to tilt back the momentum. It didn’t happen.”
Toledo sealed their win in the fourth quarter with Fluellen’s second touchdown of the game, a one-yard run after his 43-yard screen, that gave the Rockets a 23-point lead with a little more than ten minutes left to play that would stand as the game’s final score.
“They were more ready to play than we were,” Stewart said. “They wanted it more, they came ready to play and they took it.”
Stewart’s second interception of the game, picked off by Rockets’ sophomore defensive end Jayrone Elliott, was the Owls’ fourth turnover. Overall, the turnovers crippled any chance of a Cherry and White offensive rhythm and Toledo scored fifteen points off turnovers.
“We didn’t come out and play like we usually play,” Robinson said. “I keep hearing questions about them, but it’s us that messed up. We didn’t do what we needed to do and that’s why they beat us.”