Matt Rhule would like to keep the thumbs-up direction going for the Temple University football program in his fourth year as Owls head coach.
Season Opener: What2Watch
TEMPLE (0-0) vs. ARMY (0-0) | TONIGHT, 7, THE LINC, CBSSN, 97.5 FM
1. Will he be true to his word? Obviously, every game presents challenges and circumstances unique to itself, but a recurring theme to follow this season is whether or not Owls head coach Matt Rhule sticks with his oft-repeated sentiment heading into this season that he needs to loosen the reins on QB Phillip Walker and allow him to become the truly super, multi-faceted, game-changing player his talent shows him more than capable of becoming. We’ve seen flashes and even extended periods of this during the young man’s first three years running the Temple offense, but Rhule, a ground-game proponent at heart, really has had a hard time showing the trust in Walker needed for him to fully blossom. Last season, as important as it was to the program, ultimately was a case of “close but no cigar” as the ground game became a crutch, often an unsuccessful one, as the weeks and months passed. No doubt, Jahad Thomas was a revelation running the ball, and the stable is stocked in that regard with sophomore backups Ryquell Armstead, David Hood and Jager Gardner all capable of being featured backs at this level. For the Owls to reach their potential, Rhule has to let Walker, more than anyone else, take them there.
2. Gotta start to right the ship Lost in all the hoopla about that record-setting 10 wins, American Athletic Conference East Division title, AAC championship game appearance and fifth-ever bowl berth for the program was the reality that the Owls started the season 7-0 and limped home 3-4. Included in that second half were a pair of fantastic performances, first against Notre Dame before a national-TV audience in primetime that resulted in a four-point loss but some serious respect across the country and then in an all-around dominating victory against AAC power Memphis in which they made future NFL first-round QB pick Paxton Lynch look pretty average. But they were embarrassed by South Florida in mid-November and then in the Boca Raton Bowl by Toledo right before Christmas. Turning the tables right out of the chute here could be critical to a quality 2016 or better. Taking Army for granted, or being let down because the opener isn’t a “biggie” like last season’s against Penn State, would be a big mistake.
3. Finding a new order on D Following 2015 … Matt Ioannidis gone. Tyler Matakevich gone. Tavon Young gone. With that, the Owls lost the unquestioned anchors of their defensive line, linebacking corps and defensive backfield. Replacing each of them will be difficult and in T-Mat’s case likely impossible. But the Owls ain’t lacking for guys who can play on that side of the ball, or for guys who have played on that side, either. A total of 16 have the experience of 25 games or more, and DB Sean Chandler, DEs Hassan Reddick and Sharif Finch are potential stars while DE Praise Martin-Oguike has long been trumpeted by Rhule as a guy who will be playing on Sundays. Still, an identity needs to be realized with this group after the departure of aforementioned trio … and Army, with its triple-option attack favored by third-year coach Jeff Monken, won’t make that easy to do, or have it recognized, immediately. Last time the teams faced was in 2013, with Temple prevailing 33-14 for Rhule’s first win as a head coach and Walker’s first as the starting QB – with T-Mat’s fingerprints all over it in the form of 13 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. Other guys need to step up and take charge on defense. Starting against Army.
ROAD UNDER RHULE
Since taking over as Temple head coach in December 2012, Matt Rhule has posted an 18-20 record. Here is a breakdown:
2013 2-10 overall, 1-7 AAC at Notre Dame, L 28-6 vs Houston, L 22-13 vs. Fordham, L 30-29 at Idaho, L 26-24 vs Louisville, L 30-7 at Cincinnati, L 38-20 vs. Army, W 33-14 at SMU, L 59-49 at Rutgers, L 23-20 vs. UCF, L 39-36 vs. UConn, L 28-21 at Memphis, W 41-21
2014 6-6 overall, 4-4 AAC at Vanderbilt, W 37-7 vs. Navy, L 31-24 vs. Delaware St., W 59-0 at UConn, W 36-10 vs. Tulsa, W 35-24 at Houston, L 31-10 at UCF, L 34-14 vs. E. Carolina, W 20-10 vs. Memphis, L 16-13 at Penn State, L 30-13 vs. Cincinnati, L 14-6 at Tulane, W 10-3
2015 10-4 overall, 7-1 AAC AAC East Division champ vs. Penn State, W 27-10 at Cincinnati, W 34-26 at UMass, W 25-23 at Charlotte, W 37-3 vs Tulane, W 49-10 vs. UCF, W 30-16 at E. Carolina, W 24-14 vs. Notre Dame, L 24-20 at SMU, W 60-40 at South Florida, L 44-23 vs. Memphis, W 31-12 vs. UConn, W 27-3 at Houston, L 24-13 (AAC Championship) vs. Toledo, L 32-17 (Boca Raton Bowl)
2016 Schedule Tonight, vs. Army Sept. 10 vs. Stony Brook Sept. 17 at Penn State Sept. 24 vs. Charlotte Oct. 1 vs. SMU Oct. 6 at Memphis Oct. 15 at UCF Oct. 21 vs. South Florida Oct. 29 vs. Cincinnati Nov. 4 at UConn Nov. 19 at Tulane Nov. 26 vs. E. Carolina