Even when Temple led early in the game, the outcome felt like an inevitability that was just around the corner. That corner was the halftime locker room. SMU came out in the second half and put a beatdown on the Owls with a 47-23 win in Philadelphia.
Buechele would finish the day 24 of 35 for 355 yards and four touchdown passes. Page accounted for two touchdowns.
Temple got another first quarter touchdown when Tayvon Ruley ran it in from three yards out. SMU added a 40-yard field goal from Chris Naggar with three minutes left in the half to cut the deficit down to 13-10. That was also as good as it was going to get for Temple the rest of the day.
While SMU had only 33 yards rushing in the entire half, they did have 159 yards in the air. Meanwhile Temple stats looked viable if you didn’t see any of the game. The Owls had 66 yards rushing and 108 passing; but 75 of those yards were on the first play of the game. Beatty just could not maintain drives. The Temple defense got early pressure on Buechele in the pocket, as the offensive line was not giving him enough time to work.
SMU head coach Sonny Dykes was not pleased with the first half. He said the team came out flat. “We were lucky we weren’t down 50-3 at halftime, as bad as we played,” Dykes said after the game. “So, we challenged them, and it just began with effort.” He attributed that to the ongoing learning process of how to play from beginning to end. He said the coaching staff did not make big adjustments in the halftime locker room, but what was that method of challenging them? Page said, “We were not playing very hard the first half and we were not really dialed in. At halftime Coach Dykes did a really good job of motivating us. He said that if we didn’t pick our crap up, we were going to have practice after the game on the field.” Page acknowledged that it should not come to that.
Whatever the message, it worked. SMU struck quickly in the second half. On the fifth play of the third quarter, Buechele hit Page on a square-in over the middle of the field for a 44-yard touchdown pass. That gave the Mustangs a 17-13 lead they would never relinquish.
The defense made a decidedly large presence in the second half as well. Re-al Mitchell came in at quarterback for Temple and the Iowa State transfer struggled. The Owls went three and out on their first series. Mitchell is a better runner than he is a thrower by a large margin. That eliminates the pass portion of the RPO offense and allowed the SMU defense to hone in on the running game. Mitchell did have 66 yards rushing. But none of it did any damage, as the passing game was all but eliminated. He finished nine of 18 for 82 yards and a touchdown, but 27 of those yards, and the touchdown came in the last 30 seconds of the game when the outcome had long been determined.
After the Buechele-to-Page touchdown, the Mustangs added a 26-yard field goal by Naggar to make it 20-13.
Temple had a couple of big plays on its next series. But the drive bogged down inside the SMU 10 yard line and the Owls settled for 26-yard field goal by Rory Bell to make it 20-16.
But SMU was about to put the game out of reach for good. Buechele rushed for 24 yards to the Temple 24-yard line on the last play of the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Buechele dropped straight back and pump faked the defensive backs. That made tight end Kylen Granson wide open for the over-the-shoulder catch and the 24-yard touchdown. Naggar missed the extra point, but the lead was now 26-16.
With the game starting to slip away, Temple head coach Rod Carey felt compelled to go for it on fourth and one at his own 34-yard line. The lack of diversity in the offense made it clear that Mitchell would be the ball carrier. SMU linebacker Richard McBryde stuffed him for no gain. That pretty much ended the hope for Temple.
Buechele hit Granson along the right sidelines for about a 15-yard completion, but Granson broke three tackles to pick up another 12 yards on top of that. From there, Tyler Lavine bulldozed into the end zone from two yards out. It was the fourth unanswered touchdown for SMU and they had a 33-16 lead. They had outscored Temple 20-3 in the second half, with plenty of time for two more scores.
Buechele connected with Rahsee Rice on a cross pattern in busted coverage for a 33-yard touchdown pass and a 40-16 lead. Later in the half TaMerik Williams busted through a hole at the one of scrimmage. He ran 49 yards untouched right up the middle of the field for the final SMU touchdown of the game.
The final stats look dominating, and they are. SMU routed a team it should be routing. But the slow start was still a concern to Dykes. “I think we are still learning as a college football program. I think sometimes we’ll watch an opponent and you have a tendency to underestimate exactly what we are going to see on a given Saturday,” Dykes said. “We are trying to get our guys past that. We were fortunate to be a good enough team where you can play as bad as we did in the first half and turn it on and be able to pull away. I mean that’s something you just can’t do because you are going to face people that you can’t do that against.”
Temple dropped to 1-4 overall on the season and 1-1 in conference play, having lost three games in a row now.
SMU is 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the AAC. They play at Tulsa next Saturday.