This was the finish the No. 22 Temple Owls hoped for, but this wasn’t exactly the game they envisioned.
The Owls ended up beating SMU by a comfortable margin on the scoreboard, 60-40, but Friday's victory was anything but comfortable. Temple led only 45-40 with three minutes left in the game before a series of big plays by the Owls.
With 2:46 left in regulation, linebacker Tyler Matakevich batted down an SMU pass on fourth-and-4 on what could've been the winning drive. Three plays later, Temple quarterback P.J. Walker responded with a 36-yard touchdown run and, five plays after that, Temple returned an SMU interception for the game-sealing score.
Temple's team leaders played crucial roles in this game. Matakevich's deflection was huge, and Walker played arguably his best game of the season. He finished 18-of-25 passing for 268 yards and a season-high four touchdowns.
With the win, Temple improves to 8-1 (5-0 American Athletic Conference), and SMU drops to 1-8 (0-5 AAC).
What the win means for Temple: The Owls are back on track after an emotionally draining loss to Notre Dame last week. Some felt this could be a trap game for Temple, but the offense still controlled the tempo of this one, and the Owls only trailed for 3:39 of the game. Temple has an American championship in its sights, and there's still hope it could wind up in one of the New Year's Six.
What the loss means for SMU: Not much. Despite its performance Friday, this team has still been among the worst in the country -- as evidenced by SMU's weekly mention in Ryan McGee's Bottom 10 -- and a close loss to a good team isn't a cause for much revisiting. The Mustangs have already been eliminated from bowl consideration, and they have to be more concerned right now with not finishing at the very bottom of the conference.
Player of the game: Walker. He was efficient, accurate and explosive en route to four touchdowns against no interceptions. His four TDs were his most since he tossed that many against Memphis on Nov. 30, 2013.
Unsung hero: SMU QB Matt Davis. We don't usually highlight players on losing teams, but Davis is clearly a talent and deserves some credit. He threw a beautiful 30-yard TD to keep this game close in the final quarter, and he did a little bit of everything for the Mustangs. Not only did he finish with 167 passing yards but also rushed for a team-high 102 yards and two combined touchdowns.
Top play: One of Temple's first plays was one of its best. On the Owls' second snap from scrimmage, from their own 6-yard line, running back Jager Gardner took a handoff up the middle and made the highlight reel. He avoided one diving defender, then sprinted untouched for a 94-yard touchdown. It was Temple's longest-ever play from scrimmage.
The game turned when ... : Beside Matakevich's deflection, the key point might've been right at the end of the first half. SMU took a 17-14 lead, but the Owls responded by going on a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to regain the lead just before halftime. The Mustangs' lead lasted less than four minutes, and they never regained it. This might've been a different game if not for that change in momentum.