PHILADELPHIA — Temple coach Matt Rhule wondered where all the anxiety was coming from, but something didn't seem right when the Owls played Houston on Saturday in the American Athletic Conference football debut for both teams before 27,328 at Lincoln Financial Field.
Rhule gauged the pulse of his team correctly, as the Owls were shut out in the second half on their way to falling 22-13 to Houston.
Adrian McDonald's interception and 40-yard return for Houston with 1:06 remaining in the game proved to be the deciding factor, despite the Owls holding Houston 1-for-8 in the red zone without scoring a touchdown.
Still, it baffled Rhule why his team wasn't loose.
"I don't know if we pressed or played too hard, but we didn't play with the same kind of looseness we played with last week (at Notre Dame), which we will get," Rhule said. "The field looked great. It was a great atmosphere. We did the walk in. Everything about that screamed college football. This team will be back. We'll continue to get better and better."
Houston relied heavily the first three quarters on kicker Richie Leone, who hit five field goals. There were four lead changes, the last coming on Leone's fifth field goal, a 22-yarder with 2:39 left in the third quarter. Before Ryan Jackson's fourth-quarter, 10-yard touchdown, the Cougars (2-0 overall, 1-0 AAC) had gone 0-for-7 in the red zone without scoring a touchdown_with five of those opportunities coming inside the 10.
"Throughout the whole game, we were kind of getting a little frustrated because we couldn't get it in the end zone, but you have to give credit to Richie Leone, because he did his job," Jackson said. "He put points on the board when we couldn't put points on the board. I guess it was a combination of things (in the red zone). Their defense isn't that bad. There were just a lot of plays we could clean up on."
Temple (0-2, 0-1) had its red-zone issues, too. With 37 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Paul Layton missed a 25-yard field goal attempt wide left that could have given Temple a 16-15 lead.
After taking a 13-9 lead into halftime on a pair of Kenny Harper touchdown runs, the Owls would not score again. Houston's defense clamped down to hold the Owls offense to 105 yards of total offense in the second half and six first downs.
"Our defense gave us a chance, they kept them out of the end zone for 58 minutes," Rhule said. "On offense, you're not going to win the game if you miss a field goal, miss an extra point, turn the football over. We turned the ball over two times, one the defense bailed us out with a great goal line stand."
Houston sophomore wide receiver Deontay Greenberry caused problems all day for Temple, catching a game-high 14 passes for 165 yards. Jackson rushed for 109 yards on 22 carries, and true freshman quarterback John O'Korn completed 22 of 31 passes for 228 yards.
"We pretty much knew what (Temple's defense) was doing on first and second down," Greenberry said. "We executed a certain play and that's where most of my (catches) came from. Now that I'm inside, I'm against linebackers and safeties, and they're not big on covering. That's why I pretty much won out there."
Temple's Connor Reilly completed 20 of 38 for 200 yards and two interceptions. Abdul Smith led Temple with 12 tackles and Tyler Matakevich had 11, including several key stops on Temple's goal-line stand early in the third quarter.
"That's the best defense we played all year, and every time something happened, we stepped up," Matakevich said. "I thought the defense played excellent today, but they got the better of us on the last drive."