Temple pummeled by Pitt

Posted: October 28, 2012

PITTSBURGH - It's obvious why Temple wants to schedule a season-ending trip to Hawaii. But based on Saturday's performance, it probably won't make a difference.

The Owls' chances of bowl eligibility took a major hit with a 47-17 loss to Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.

It's not the fact that they lost, but how they lost that could make a bowl run unlikely. The Owls have been outscored by a stunning 82-27 in the last two games after two narrow wins to open their Big East schedule.

Temple (3-4, 2-2 Big East) needs three more wins to become bowl eligible, with four games left. Adding a 12th game against Hawaii would provide another opportunity to secure a sixth win were Temple to win two of its next four.

But given the way the Owls are playing, that's hard to see.

They surely will have a tough time winning any of the remaining four contests unless their pass defense drastically improves.

The Owls allowed an average quarterback - this week it was Pittsburgh's Tino Sunseri - look like Tom Brady for the second consecutive week. The fifth-year senior completed 20 of 28 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked just once.

Temple has now given up seven touchdown passes in consecutive losses to Rutgers and Pittsburgh (4-4, 1-3).

"A lot of people would say it's the defensive [backfield], but I think it's the team," Temple defensive tackle Shahid Paulhill said of the struggling pass defense. "Is the D-line getting enough pressure?

"When we get pressure, it makes the DBs' jobs that much easier. It's a team effort and I feel like as a team, we are not bringing it all together."

Sunseri, tailback Ray Graham and a stingy defense led Pitt to a 31-7 halftime lead.

Sunseri's first touchdown strike was an 18-yarder to freshman tight end J.P. Holtz, which gave the Panthers a 14-0 cushion with 4 minutes, 46 seconds left in the first quarter. His second was a 1-yarder to Graham with one second left in the half.

Sunseri completed passes to seven different receivers to produce his third 300-yard passing game of the season.

"We had some man-coverage breakdowns," said Temple coach Steve Addazio, whose squad surrendered a season-worst 528 yards of total offense. "We call it mental error, and it happened a few times."

Like Sunseri, Graham did whatever he wanted.

In addition to the touchdown reception, the senior rushed for two scores. Graham finished with 109 rushing yards on 19 carries. The New Jersey native also had four receptions for 71 yards, all in the first half.

Pitt's defense held Temple to 92 yards before intermission. The Owls finished with a misleading 324 yards, considering the outcome was basically decided at intermission.

And it doesn't get easier for Temple's pass defense. Louisville, Cincinnati and Syracuse - three of Temple's remaining foes - have prolific air attacks.

Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is regarded as the conference's best player. Cincinnati's Munchie Legaux is a playmaker. And Syracuse's Ryan Nassib, a Malvern Prep graduate, leads the conference in passing yards.

"Our goal was to win the opener and get bowl eligible," Addazio said. "That's still in front of us.

"But what's in front of us now, that's a lot of rhetoric for me. It all about now, just focus on winning a game."

Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at kpompey@phillynews.com or on Twitter @pompeysgridlock

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