ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Battling a resilient FIU squad in a defensive slugfest, Temple managed to never surrender its early lead as the Owls fought their way to a 28-3 victory over the Panthers at the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla. The group effort from Temple's defense paved the way for late offensive success, as the former compiled a bowl-record seven sacks and season-high three turnovers in the win.
Keys to the Game
> Following both offenses suffering through rough starts, Temple QB Frank Nutile and company put together the game's initial scoring drive to open the second quarter. After driving 64 yards over six plays, the redshirt junior decided the conclude the possession himself, fighting his way four yards into the end zone for the 7-0 advantage.
> Neither offense would manage a score for nearly another full quarter until FIU compiled a 12-play, 62-yard drive that concluded with a 27-yard field goal, cutting Temple's lead to 7-3.
> The Owls' offense saw fit to immediately respond to the Panthers' threat on their ensuing possession, putting together a 75-yard drive that culminated with a one-yard rushing score from redshirt junior David Hood for the 14-3 edge. The touchdown would never had happened without elite efforts from Nutile and his receiving corps, as the redshirt junior signal-caller effortlessly helped claw Temple out of a first-and-30 situation behind a pair of pinpoint throws. The true setup, though, came from redshirt senior Adonis Jennings, who despite being tackled to the ground at the one-yard line, managed to reel in a 39-yard reception all while lying nearly prone on his back.
> The Temple offensive engine continued to purr as the Owls' joint attack, both through the air and on the ground, finally broke the Panthers' sturdy defense. Taking over on the Owls' own seven-yard line, Hood kicked off festivities with a 29-yard rush up the left sideline before Nutile found sophomore WR Isaiah Wright for a 45-yard TD toss, bolstering Temple to a 21-3 advantage.
> Following FIU's third turnover of the game - fumble recovery by redshirt junior Freddie Booth-Lloyd - the Owls' offense went to work with excellent field position. Unsurprisingly, Temple quickly took advantage as junior RB Ryquell Armstead powered his way five yards for the touchdown and the game's final score, lifting the Owls to the 28-3 victory.
> The victory serves as the program's first postseason win since the 2011 Gildan New Mexico Bowl where Temple topped Wyoming 37-15.
> Both sides of the ball saw first-time starters, as redshirt junior Rob Ritrovato got the nod at fullback while sophomore William Kwenkeu filled in at middle linebacker.
> Midway through the first quarter with the Owls' offense reeling from a tough turnover (backwards pass ruled a fumble), S Sean Chandler saw fit to grab his third interception of the year on a deep pass deflection. The senior registered the 10th pick of his distinguished career, vaulting him into a tie for seventh all-time in the Temple record books.
> Following Chandler's early interception during the opening period, FIU's turnover woes continued as LB Shaun Bradley picked off a low pass midway through the second quarter. The interception marks the first of Bradley's young career with the Owls.
> Kwenkeu, who received the first start of his career in place of Bradley, earned his keep at middle linebacker behind some consistent play. The true sophomore recorded the first two sacks of his career and assisted the defense with six tackles on the game.
> The pair of picks from Chandler and Bradley marked Temple's second consecutive game with two interceptions, as Chandler and redshirt junior Derrek Thomas grabbed two in the regular season finale win at Tulsa.
> Redshirt senior WR Keith Kirkwood has grinded with the Owls for the past four years, earning him recognition as team captain and a prestigious single-digit. With the his six receptions against the Panthers, Kirkwood surpassed the 100-catch career milestone up to 103 total, good for 12th on the all-time school leaderboards.
> Following Nutile's solid performance under center, as he threw for 254 yards and one touchdown on 18-of-28 passing, the redshirt junior was awarded Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors.
> As for head coach Geoff Collins, the win serves as just the second time in Gasparilla bowl history that a first-year head coach brought home a victory, joining then-Louisville head coach Charlie Strong who did the same in 2010.
> The Temple defense put together seven sacks for the game, good for second-best by the unit this season (9.0 in win over UMass) and a bowl-record.