Walker throws 4 TD passes, No. 23 Temple tops SMU

Schuyler Dixon
Associated Press

Dallas — Freshman Jager Gardner had zero yards rushing for the season when he took a handoff 94 yards away from the end zone on Temple’s second offensive play.

So naturally, top running back Jahad Thomas knew exactly what was going to happen.

“It’s crazy because I actually called it the play right before, ‘I feel like he’s going to pop this,’ ” Thomas said. “And then he did it.”

P.J. Walker followed the longest run in Temple history with four touchdown passes and a scoring run of his own, and the 23rd-ranked Owls pulled away from SMU 60-40 on Friday night.

Temple (8-1, 5-0 American Athletic), coming off a close high-profile loss to No. 8 Notre Dame at home, had its most points since beating Holy Cross 63-34 on Sept. 29, 1973.

Walker’s final touchdown pass was a 75-yarder to Ventell Bryant the first play after Matt Davis pulled the Mustangs (1-8, 0-5) to 38-31 on a 30-yard scoring toss to Jeremiah Gaines early in the fourth quarter.

“It’s not our best football game, and our goal is to always play really great football,” Temple coach Matt Rhule said. “We didn’t play great football tonight, and that’s starts with me.”

SMU was competitive for third time in three games against ranked teams under first-year coach Chad Morris, and made things really interesting with nine quick points to get within 45-40 midway through the fourth quarter.

After Temple’s Nick Sharga was called for holding in the end zone on a punt to give the Mustangs a safety, Braeden West returned the subsequent free kick 80 yards for a touchdown, weaving between tacklers before breaking free near midfield.

“I think as you look at the story of the season, I know the record says what you are,” Morris said. “When you consider our strength of schedule and who we’ve played … I think it says a whole lot about our guys. They’ve got a lot of fight in them. We’re close.”

The Mustangs had one chance for a go-ahead score, but linebacker Tyler Matakevich knocked down Davis’ fourth-down pass in SMU territory with 2:41 remaining.

Walker followed with a clinching 36-yard touchdown run, and Sean Chandler finished the scoring with a 41-yard interception return in the final minute.

Gardner got most of the carries in the first quarter, but Rhule said it was because he earned the chance to start, not because Thomas was nursing a rib injury coming off the 24-20 loss to the Irish.

After starting the game with minus-1 yard for the year and getting a 1-yarder before the long run, Gardner finished with 110 yards on just six carries.

“I’m just going with the flow of the game,” Gardner said. “My time will come. I’m still a freshman.”

Thomas, who didn’t get a carry until the second quarter, had a touchdown to give him at least one in all nine games. He finished with 15 carries for 66 yards, leaving him 30 shy of becoming Temple’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2012.

Temple improved to 5-0 on the road for the first time in school history and beat a Texas team for the first time since topping TCU in 1939. It was the first win in the Lone Star State for the Owls since they beat Texas A&M in 1935.

Walker was 18 of 25 for 268 yards without an interception in his first four-TD game since the 2013 finale against Memphis, and the Owls finished with 268 yards both rushing and passing.

Davis threw for 167 yards and had 102 yards rushing, including a 2-yard touchdown. Xavier Jones ran for two scores and finished with 67 yards on 16 carries for SMU.

Temple went ahead for good at 21-17 when Walker found Romond Deloatch for a 16-yard touchdown strike with 24 seconds left in the first half.

The Owls pushed the lead to 28-17 on Walker’s 4-yard scoring pass to Adonis Jennings on the first possession of the second half after punter Tyler Mayes picked up 8 yards on a fake on fourth-and-6.

“We’ve just got to continue to find a way to not beat ourselves right before half, or right after half,” Morris said. “And it’s hard to battle back against really, really good teams when you beat yourself on a couple of occasions.”