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Northern Illinois 31, Temple 17: The Narrative Is Over, For Now

Look westward, young stallion, for the team with the most going for it. <em>(Photo via <a href="" target="new">NIU Athletics</a>)</em>
Look westward, young stallion, for the team with the most going for it. (Photo via NIU Athletics)

Here's how the legend was supposed to go: Temple, the cast off school that nobody wanted, build themselves back up and try to prove to the world that they belong. A plucky young coach, cut from the cloth of a legendary sports icon, will "do things the right way" and teach his boys to play "intelligent football," leading them to a championship of some kind. They'll make some noise with a marquee nonconference win, and then come conference time they'll start running through the opposition and have a target on their chest.

And it's a fun story — one I'd even consider going to see if they turned it into a movie. But you can't write the screenplay before the real-life plot is completed, and reality may have dictated otherwise that the Temple Owls are not quite ready to be the Sandra Bullock feel-good football movie of the year. Maybe it's the Northern Illinois Huskies, since they're the ones who vanquished TU in a game where maybe the Hooters were slightly favored.

Why not? Look at the cast of characters. A coach with health concerns. A player who served in Iraq. Players named Chandler and Chad and Landon. Huskies — everyone loves shaggy dogs. This team is 4-2, just like Temple. And they won, albeit by two touchdowns, at home. Play this game in Philadelphia, and the inverse may be true. After all, Temple's perfect at home, and so are these folks. Temple couldn't win at Penn State; NIU fell just short at Illinois. And guess which loss is better.

This game was tied at 17 at halftime, and empirical data shows that 17-17 is the perfect halftime score. It means you're watching a tremendous battle. But in the second half, the Owls reverted to their pre-MAC days, unable to score or stop the other team from scoring.

Perhaps it was all those enervating drives; NIU had four straight possessions which totaled 53 plays and 24:24 in clock time. By comparison, Temple had 54 plays and 21:50 minutes controlling the football. Jerry Kill's boys dictated what would happen on this day. And they didn't even need The Big Play. There's always that one defining, momentum-reversing play that lands on the highlight reel for solid wins. NIU didn't have that. Their longest play from scrimmage was 24 yards — a Harnish scramble, which bookended a methodical 90-yard drive that led to their 31st point.

But can they maintain what they're doing throughout the month? They host Buffalo and CMU in back-to-back weeks before a trip to Western. They have a defense that's strong enough to blast a long winning streak in the heart of their schedule, but let's not get ahead of ourselves the way we swore in Temple as the czar of the Hustle Belt. (This region is a monarchy, you see.)

But for all we know, this chapter in Temple's season is just the defeat before the redemption. This wasn't a game they were supposed to win, or even had to win, for one loss does not kill the chance for a division. They do lie at 1-1, however, tied with Kent State, but much like the team that just smothered their energy, they have three automatics in a row: Bowling Green, at Buffalo, and back home against Akron. Ford Field could be hosting a rematch. That would pretty much be the final chapter in the best-selling book.