Temple (5-1, 2-0) received a helping hand from junior cornerback Harrison Hand and edged out a 30-28 victory over AAC foe Memphis (5-1, 1-1) on Saturday. Hand transferred from Baylor University, and he’s provided a major addition to head coach Rod Carey’s defense. The standout corner registered a team-high nine tackles, forced a fumble on an impactful hit to Memphis quarterback Brady White (R-Jr.), intercepted a pass, and tackled Tigers running back Kenneth Gainwell (R-Fr.) before he could reach the first down line on a fourth down.
Hand now has 35 tackles, two interceptions, and a forced fumble in six games. Between Hand and Christian Braswell (R-So.), Temple has two reliable corners as they get into the meat of their conference schedule. Owls defensive tackle Ifeanyi Maijeh (R-So.) has been Temple’s defensive revelation, and he continued his onslaught with five tackles, a sack, and a pressure on White that forced a rushed throw on fourth down.
Temple’s defense held Memphis to zero fourth-down conversions on three attempts, and the Tigers’ four turnovers were detrimental. White threw for 361 yards against the Owls’ defense, but he ceded three turnovers. Memphis turned the ball over on three consecutive drives in the first half, stalling any momentum.
Temple led 16-0 before White connected with wide receiver Damonte Coxie (R-Jr.) on a 14-yard back-shoulder throw to cut the deficit to nine points. A Temple fumble on a read option preceded the Tigers’ first scoring drive, and there were a combined three fumbles on read options in the first half.
Solid QB Play
Anthony Russo went just 5-of-9 passing with a near-pick over his first nine passing attempts, but he connected on a 38-yard pass to one of Temple’s main passing outlets in wide receiver Branden Mack (R-Jr.). Mack was able to go up in traffic for the big gain to set up an eventual one-yard touchdown run from running back Jager Gardner (R-Sr.).
Backup quarterback Todd Centeio (R-So.) spelled Russo for some action in the Owls’ second straight game, with success through the air (3-for-3 passing for 32 yards, seven rushes for 44 yards). However, Memphis stripped him on a trick play to force a red zone turnover.
Russo finished 20-for-33 passing for 224 yards with two touchdown passes. For the second straight week he utilized a pocket pass with wide receiver Isaiah Wright (Sr.) on a sweep for a touchdown. Wright hurdled over a Memphis defender when crossing the end zone in a very aesthetic 12-yard play.
Mack’s 125 receiving yards led Temple. Branden Mack has been one of Anthony Russo’s favorite targets alongside the more diminutive Jadan Blue (five receptions for 52 yards). Mack’s ability to catch the ball high, coupled with his size, is a potent combination for Temple’s passing attack.
In the freshman running back battle between Temple’s Re’Mahn Davis (23 carries for 72 rushing yards) and Memphis’s Kenneth Gainwell, Gainwell excelled both as a runner and a receiver. He was two receiving yards shy of tallying 100 yards in both rushing and receiving categories. Gainwell showcased his balance and agility, en route to 106 rushing yards and a touchdown.
While Davis has out-shined Gardner multiple times this season, the senior was the more productive back. Gardner finished with 77 rushing yards on 18 carries and a touchdown.
Hanging on for the Win
Memphis reeled off 14 unanswered points when trailing 23-7 and had two chances to place themselves in field goal range for the win when trailing 30-28. With 4:21 remaining and the ball on Temple’s 46-yard line, the Tigers could only muster one yard and Maijeh’s pass rush forced a turnover on downs.
Temple failed to produce a first down and punted with 53 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Punter Adam Barry (So.) pinned Memphis at the 16-yard line, and the Tigers had a final opportunity. Pressure came from Temple EDGE Quincy Roche (R-Jr.) and the Owls’ interior, forcing White to roll out and find a receiver. However, the clock churned and Memphis followed with a short pass. Memphis threw two incompletions to force one last play with one second remaining and the ball at their own 34-yard line.
Their lateral attempt failed, as Hand made the game’s penultimate tackle. Kicker Will Mobley (R-So.) went a perfect 3-for-3 on the day, now 7-for-8 on the season, building important confidence as Temple continues to face upper-echelon AAC teams with undefeated No. 21 SMU (6-0, 2-0) next on the slate.