ST. PETERSBURG — Temple used a dominant defense and a gritty performance from quarterback Frank Nutile to earn its third bowl win in program history, a 28-3 victory Thursday night over Florida International in the Gasparilla Bowl.
Nutile ran for a touchdown and threw for another, and the Owls (7-6) hounded FIU (8-5) with seven sacks, the most for a bowl game at Tropicana Field.
"This is not the first time they have stepped up," said Temple coach Geoff Collins, a former Gators defensive coordinator. "They've done it all year long."
FIU's hopes took an early, literal hit when starting quarterback Alex McGough went down with a fractured left collarbone on the Panthers' first drive. The Gaither High alumnus did not return.
The injury was an especially big blow considering the circumstances. McGough was playing his last game with his younger brother Shane, FIU's starting center. Several dozen friends were expected to be among the announced crowd of 16,363 to watch him play 40 miles from his Carrollwood home.
McGough entered the game needing only 16 completions and 154 yards to break FIU career records. He completed his only pass for 7 yards.
"You feel bad for him," FIU coach Butch Davis said. "Obviously he wanted to go out with a great performance."
Although it was an unfortunate end to his college career, it might not be his final football game. McGough is a legitimate NFL prospect, whom Davis called the most talented quarterback he has had.
McGough's replacement, sophomore Maurice Alexander, struggled early. He threw interceptions on two of his first four passes — dropping his passer rating to minus-100 at one point before rallying to finish 16-of-33 passing for 162 yards.
The costliest play came in the first quarter after an Owls mistake. Nutile faked a handoff, rolled out and threw what was ruled a lateral to receiver Isaiah Wright. Panthers defensive back Bryce Canady recovered at the Temple 38, giving them great field position that they immediately squandered.
On the next play, Alexander fired a pass to receiver Darrius Scott that bounced up and deflected off his helmet to Temple safety Sean Chandler for the first of three FIU turnovers.
The Panthers made matters worse by missing a 43-yard field goal in the second quarter and stalling at the Temple 10 in the third quarter.
Temple's offense eventually figured itself out behind Nutile, who finished 18-of-28 for 254 yards to earn MVP honors.
Nutile started the scoring by absorbing a huge hit on his 4-yard touchdown run four minutes into the second quarter. He helped Temple convert after facing first and 30, then fired a 39-yard strike to receiver Adonis Jennings — who caught it lying down, despite a defensive pass interference — late in the third.
"Frank just gave me a chance," Jennings said. "I had to make a play for the team."
Two plays later, running back David Hood made one when he lunged the ball across the goal line just before fumbling to give the Owls a 14-3 lead.
Nutile padded that lead in the fourth with Wright's 45-yard catch and run, and running back Ryquell Armstead punched it in a 5-yard score in the closing minutes.
That was more than enough for Temple's defense. The Owls split their seven sacks among six different players, with linebacker William Kwenkeu recording two. FIU running back Napoleon Maxwell — an Admiral Farragut product — rushed for a team-high 52 yards, but the Panthers couldn't get much else. They finished with 88 rushing yards, 257 total yards and converted on only four of their 15 third downs.
Temple sealed its first bowl victory since 2011 when defensive lineman Dana Levine jarred the ball loose from Alexander with 6:03 left. Cocoa native Freddie Booth-Lloyd pounced on it to secure the Owls' third consecutive winning season and send their seniors out as the winningest class in program history.
FIU was attempting to earn its first nine-win season.
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.