DALLAS (AP) — Temple played the first half so well Saturday that the Owls thought they would win for the first time in the American Athletic Conference.
Then came the second half.
SMU, trailing by 21 points during the second quarter, scored 45 points after halftime in a record-setting explosion that downed Temple 59-49.
“It was a tale of two halves,” first-year Owls head coach Matt Rhule said. “Obviously, in the second half we weren’t able to hang in there.”
Quarterback Garrett Gilbert finished the game with an SMU record 538 passing yards, four touchdown passes and 97 yards and two TDs rushing. His passing yards and SMU’s 728 yards of offense were the most ever against Temple. Gilbert’s 635 yards of total offense were an SMU record and the seventh-highest total in FBS history
Rhule said, “Gilbert’s a tremendous quarterback. We saw what he did in the end of the game against Rutgers.”
In that game, Gilbert had brought SMU back from a 35-14 fourth-quarter deficit before his team lost in triple overtime.
“I knew what they were capable of doing,” Owls senior defensive back Abdul Smith said. “For the first 25 minutes we were able to slow them down just playing basic defense. I think we just got a little complacent with them.”
The Owls (1-7, 0-4 conference) did plenty of things well. Freshman P.J. Walker completed his first 16 passes, including three for touchdowns.
Walker finished 26 for 37 for 293 yards and four touchdowns, and led Temple with 92 yards and another TD rushing. For the first time in his three starts since taking over from junior Connor Reilly, Walker did not throw an interception.
He said, “It built my confidence up a lot. It made me not think, or overthink, anything and just go out there and play my game.
“The way the offensive line protected me, they gave me a lot of confidence just to be able to sit back there and make a lot of plays.”
SMU linebacker Randall Joyner said, “Definitely they surprised us. We’d seen them on film. We knew they were transitioning to the spread, but the switch at quarterback makes things go.”
Temple’s Robby Anderson had a career day with nine catches for 239 yards and his first two collegiate touchdowns, shattering the Owls’ record of 214 receiving yards by Van Johnson against Pitt in 1996.
After the Mustangs scored on Traylon Shead’s 11-yard run, the Owls took a 14-7 lead on Anderson’s scoring catches. Walker hit Anderson on a screen pass, and the sophomore raced behind blockers for a 42-yard touchdown. On the next possession, Anderson got behind SMU’s defense to catch an end-around pass from wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick for an 83-yard TD.
Walker’s 16 consecutive completions included 18-yard touchdown passes to John Christopher and Ryan Alderman.
“Credit (Temple). They came out and took advantage of some of the mistakes we were making,” Gilbert said.
“They made some plays and put us in a hole, which we dug ourselves a little bit. This team has a never-say-die attitude, as we continued to fight when we were down by three scores.”
SMU (3-4, 2-1) took the lead for good with 9:49 remaining. After Deion Sanders Jr. returned a kickoff 87 yards to the Temple 8-yard line, Chase Hover kicked a 21-yard field goal for a 45-42 lead.
The Mustangs’ Keenan Holman caught 10 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. Teammate Der’rikk Thompson added nine receptions for 158 yards and one score.
Gilbert passed for 180 yards in the second quarter but just one touchdown. It was from 19 yards out to Holman 46 seconds before halftime to pull the Mustangs within 28-14.
Three lost fumbles reduced the effectiveness of an SMU offense that gained 338 yards in the first half. Head coach June Jones noted that in his halftime speech.
“I told them that we gave (Temple) everything that they had. I challenged our defense to stop them on the first series, and then if the offense scored on their first series we were going to win the game.”
The Mustangs did stop Temple on its first possession, and then drove to a touchdown. Gilbert’s pass bounced off of Holman and into the hands of Thompson, who ran in for a 17-yard score.
The Owls came back with a four-play, 67 yard drive which culminated in a 6-yard touchdown run by Walker.
Gilbert brought SMU back again, mostly with his legs. A 53-yard quarterback draw moved the ball in toTemple’s 11. One play later, Gilbert rolled to his right into the end zone from 10 yards out.
The Mustangs came right back, with Gilbert hitting Holman in stride with a deep pass for a 64-yard touchdown. Chase Hover’s extra point tied the game 35-35.
Temple tried a fake punt that failed. The Mustangs took over at the Temple 28 and drove in for Prescott Line’s 2-yard touchdown run and a 42-35 lead.
Walker and the Owls then came back. His 49-yard pass to Anderson set up a 4-yard scoring toss to Kenneth Harper before Sanders’ long kickoff return.
Rhule said, “As I told our players we want to be that team (SMU) one day where we are down early but will get bigger, we’ll get stronger so we can match up for four quarters. In the second half we weren’t able to sustain it, and that’s part of growing a defense.”