"It's obviously better than what was going on last year," said Temple coach Matt Rhule. "So I'm happy about that. But as I just told them, 'Everyone tells you you're bad, you can't believe 'em. Now everyone's going to tell you you're good. You can't believe 'em."
A defense that struggled to hold leads last season dominated the action against a Vanderbilt team that had its entire offensive line back from a 9-4 season. A tough debut for new coach Derek Mason, who came in from Stanford when James Franklin left to take over Penn State.
Through third quarters, Temple had forced six Vanderbilt turnovers. The Owls added another interception in the fourth.
Last season, the Owls had three interceptions. In the third quarter, they had two, both by junior cornerback Tavon Young.
"That was the crux of the game. Could our defensive line hang with their offensive line? And vice versa," said Rhule. ". . . I was - I hate to say surprised - but pleasantly surprised that we were able to hang in there so well in the D line."
The first half was rarely pretty and sometimes seemed like the theater of the absurd. Vanderbilt needed a fumbled Temple punt snap to get on the scoreboard at all. The Owls and Commodores combined to convert 1 of 15 third down conversions.
Two successful fourth-down pass conversions were the difference in the first half. The first was for a touchdown, 35 yards from P.J. Walker to Brandon Shippen for a 7-0 lead with 3 minutes, 47 seconds left in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Vanderbilt tied it when Oren Burks recovered a fumble in Temple's end zone. Owls punter Alex Starzyk couldn't handle a high snap and couldn't pick up the ball in the end zone.
Right about then, Vanderbilt was informed it was going to lose one timeout per quarter for "ill-stated statement" on its jerseys, referring to its Anchor Down slogan. But Vanderbilt convinced the official it had NCAA approval. Never mind.
Another Walker fourth-down conversion pass, this time on fourth and 7, kept a late second-quarter drive going for the Owls. Two plays later, Temple took the lead on a well-conceived and executed pass play, with Jalen Fitzpatrick scoring from 18 yards out, getting a big block from receiver Brandon Shippen.
"We've kind of made the move to be a spread team with a little bit of power in there," Rhule said. "So when we do that, we read the box count, sometimes you're going to throw it out there and its going to be six, two, minus two, and then, pump and go. . . . We're just going to realize some good plays and bad plays are going to be there and not to panic."
The Owls took a 21-7 lead into halftime when Averee Robinson returned a Stephen Rivers fumble 55 yards. Avery Ellis forced the sack.
In the third quarter, Two Austin Jones field goals (one short of last season's entire total) were sandwiched around a Walker touchdown run. With 9:40 left in the game, Temple was up 37-7. The Owls were flying home right after the game. Presumably, they couldn't have cared less what time it was.
This season, Temple will honor late board of trustees member and former Inquirer co-owner Lewis Katz with a "Lew" decal on all football helmets.