The defense that Collins and Jackets defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker coached and developed in their two-year run at Temple was the Jackets’ superior. A defense dotted with NFL prospects kept Tech in third-and-long throughout the afternoon, putting the Jackets in passing situations that they were unable to navigate.
“There’s irony in this, and I get it, but all we can do is focus on what we can do to get better, take the positives from that game, of which there were a lot, and understand that that is really good football team and a really good roster that we just played and we went toe-to-toe with them in week four of a transformation,” Collins said.
Tech was 2-for-14 on third-down conversions after going 3-for-9 against The Citadel. Only four times did the Jackets have a third-and-5 or shorter. Quarterbacks Tobias Oliver and James Graham were a combined 14-for-35 passing for 174 yards and an interception.
“They have a very, very good pass rush,” offensive tackle Zach Quinney said.
The Jackets, who were without starting running back Jordan Mason in the second half because of an apparent injury and also lost starting center Kenny Cooper, ran 35 times for 131 yards. Collins said that Cooper, will probably be out for “awhile.”
“I thought we moved the ball really well at times,” Collins said. “I thought we played really, really hard against, I think, one of the best front sevens in all of college football.”
The Jackets’ search for a quarterback extended to Graham, who played his most snaps of his career in relief of Oliver. With quarterback Lucas Johnson sidelined with an upper-body injury after starting the past two games, Oliver started for the first time since the season opener at Clemson.
Oliver played the first four series, leading the Jackets to the doorstep of the end zone on one drive, but failed to produce a score. He was removed in favor of Graham, who played nearly the entire rest of the way, making some nice throws but often facing pass-rush pressure and also missing on other attempts.
The Jackets were thwarted by two Oliver fumbles. The sophomore got the Jackets going on their third possession of the game, begun at the 5:07 mark of the first quarter with the score at 0-0. It followed Tech making the first big play of the game, as safety Kaleb Oliver, who became a new father Wednesday, intercepted Temple quarterback Anthony Russo in the end zone on the Owls’ opening drive of the game.
On that drive, Tech converted on third down twice and once on fourth down to arrive at the Temple 10-yard line for first-and-goal. On third down, Oliver scrambled and had a path to the goal line, but had the ball knocked loose on the threshold of the end zone. The ball went flying into the grasp of Temple cornerback Christian Braswell, and with it went the chance to take a 7-0 lead.
Temple instead grabbed control, scoring touchdowns on its final two possessions of the first half. They were drives of 58 and 73 yards, aided by a string of third- and fourth-and-short conversions. The Owls went into the half ahead 14-0. Outside of those two series, Tech’s defense held Temple’s offense to a field goal on 10 drives, not counting the game-ending possession.
“Every day, we’re getting better,” Kaleb Oliver said.
Another Oliver fumble sank the Jackets on the opening drive of the second half. With Graham in for Oliver, the Jackets began to move the ball, opening the possibility for Tech to cut the lead to 14-7 early in the third quarter. Graham guided Tech from its 29 to the Temple 37 without need of a third down before leaving the game with an apparent hand injury, bringing Oliver back in.
On Oliver’s second snap, he scrambled to the perimeter after his protection broke down, but had the ball knocked loose again, and this time the ball right into the arms of safety Benny Walls, who had a straight shot to the end zone for a 74-yard return for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead that effectively sealed the game with most of the second half still to play.
Walls struck again in the fourth quarter, intercepting Graham when he threw into the end zone on a first-and-10 from the Temple 14, ending the Jackets’ final scoring threat.
“Turnovers in the red zone were the name of the game, and you cannot do that against as good of a roster that we just played,” Collins said.