Temple’s defense stifles FIU in bowl win
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Temple didn’t get to the postseason with a dominating defense, but the Owls displayed that quality Thursday night, holding Florida International in check throughout a 28-3 win in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl at Tropicana Field.
“This is not the first time they’ve stepped up and played at a high level,” Temple coach Geoff Collins said of his defense. “They’ve played really well all year. They’ve gotten better, they run to the ball, they tackle, they play together, they’re coachable. They’re an amazing group to be around.”
The Owls (7-6) scored three late touchdowns to pull away for their fourth win in the last five games. FIU (8-5) lost quarterback Alex McGough on the opening series to a fractured collarbone and struggled to move the ball consistently after that.
Temple’s defense came up with seven sacks, two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a season-low three points allowed, this after giving up at least 22 points in each of the previous six games.
The game’s MVP went to Owls quarterback Frank Nutile, who ran for one score and threw for another, passing for 254 yards with no turnovers.
Leading just 7-3, the Owls pulled away late in the third quarter. After facing a first-and-30 and getting out of it with two passes, Nutile had a 39-yard throw to Adonis Jennings, who caught the ball on the 1-yard line as he fell on his back. That set up David Hood’s 1-yard touchdown run.
“Even when it was first and 30, we were going to do what we do ... we weren’t really flabbergasted,” Nutile said. “We took a deep breath and said ‘Let’s go down the field and score.’ That’s when the game tore open.”
Nutile added a 45-yard scoring pass to Isaiah Wright with 7:26 left in the game, and Ryquell Armstead had a 5-yard TD run with 3:54 remaining.
FIU was held to 96 yards in the first half, then had two long drives in the third quarter. The first stalled at the 30-yard line, when a penalty negated a 10-yard gain, leading to a punt. The second stalled inside the 15, netting only a field goal.
“I am extraordinarily proud of this football team, regardless of the outcome tonight,” said FIU coach Butch Davis, who took over a team that went 4-8 last year. “What these kids accomplished this year, nobody thought was even remotely possible.”
Temple led 7-0 at halftime, thanks to a 4-yard keeper by Nutile in the second quarter for the half’s only points.
McGough, a senior, exited early due to a shoulder injury, with backup Maurice Alexander stepping in after throwing only six passes all season.
FIU’s defense forced a fumble at the Temple 38-yard line, but the Panthers returned the favor. Alexander’s first pass was intercepted by Temple’s Sean Chandler to spoil a scoring opportunity.
Temple saw a drive end when the Owls were stopped short on fourth-and-2 at the FIU 34. Alexander threw a second interception in the first half, and the Panthers’ best scoring opportunity saw Alexander sacked on third down at the Temple 21. Borregales then missed on a 43-yard field goal with 5:35 left in the half.
FIU’s defense, which gave up an average of 47 points in the Panthers’ four losses, kept Temple in check for a half, allowing only one third-down conversion.
“These kids bought into everything our coaching staff asked them to do,” Davis said. “Tonight, we played, we competed. It’s very difficult when you lose Alex McGough, your starting quarterback, had been a four-year starter, a playmaker. It was tough.”
Temple’s defense held FIU to 96 yards of total offense in the first half, with linebacker William Kwenkeu getting two sacks. The Panthers wound up with 252 total yards.
NOTES: The bowl game was played for the 10th year at Tropicana Field, home of baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays, but in its first year with a new sponsorship with Bad Boy Mowers. ... FIU coach Butch Davis worked nearby as a consultant on Greg Schiano’s Bucs coaching staff in 2012-13, while Temple coach Geoff Collins spent time as an assistant with UCF in Orlando (2008-09), FIU (2010) and at the University of Florida (2015-16). ... FIU also played in St. Petersburg in 2011, losing to Marshall 20-10. The only other schools to play in this bowl more than once are Marshall (twice) and UCF (three times).