Considering the season they had, the Owls found themselves in an unlikely, if not difficult, position Saturday night. Win and accomplish one of their goals, which was to represent the American Athletic East Division in the inaugural conference championship game. Lose and see that goal, and possibly others, just disappear into thin air, almost erasing everything else they had achieved in this breakout season. Oh, they put themselves in that position, having been embarrassed and exposed two weeks prior in Tampa, where South Florida blitzed them by 21 points. But, the Owls responded with their best performance of the season last week in beating then-No. 21 Memphis, and this time out, they played like champions, getting it done however possible, which meant grinding the overmatched and injury-riddled Huskies into submission. Very few in hometown Philly may realize it, as only 28,000 showed up at the Linc to watch the proceedings, but the city has a true winner in town, and it’s covered in Cherry & White.
2. Defense does it ... again
No shutout, but, wow, it may as well have been. Led by, who else, LB Tyler Matakevich, the Owls totally shut down UConn’s offense, to the point where it only had 65 total yards through three quarters. Frankly, it seemed kinda silly that the Huskies would opt for a FG in the fourth quarter after driving to the Temple 28. Even on fourth-and-16, not sure what the point was with kicking there, except, obviously, to get on the board. But, so what? Though they didn’t have double-digit sacks as they did in the opener against Penn State, the Owls did rack up 12 tackles for loss in this one in arguably their best defensive effort of the season. T-Mat had 11 tackles and half a sack while CB Sean Chandler made his fourth INT of the season. This latest effort puts Temple back where it belongs, ranked among the top 20 nationally in total defense at No. 19. It’s even better in scoring, rating 16th at 18.8 ppg, sandwiched in between unbeaten Iowa and Clemson.
3. Even in victory, offense still a concern
The final numbers are mediocre, and, possibly, deceiving. For instance, we got RB Jahad Thomas with 20 carries for 119 yards, but without that 60-yard scoring jaunt to cap the Owls’ scoring in the final frame, the junior was looking at a 19-carry, 59-yard effort – not so hot. QB P.J. Walker completed 19 of 29 passes, but only for 160 yards. Amazingly, he did connect with nine different receivers and managed to get vastly underutilized TE talent Colin Thompson somewhat involved for the second week in a row. Posting three TDs, three PATs and two FGs against a team ranked 19th nationally in points allowed (19.8) isn’t awful, either. But the Owls still had to punt five times and they really have too much ability across the board to be posting just 321 yards of total offense. Or, put it this way, that output ain’t going to cut it against Houston in the upcoming conference title tilt, nor likely in a bowl game after that, if the Owls have any intention of winning out to truly complete the best season in Temple football history.
4. Let the Matt Rhule rumors commence
It’s hardly a surprise. You win, especially at a perennial loser like Temple, and you’re going to become a hot commodity in the annual college football coaching carousel. Teams want Rhule for what he’s done here, and how he’s done it. Not for nothing, but this guy oozes an understated confidence. He is old school in his beliefs and work ethic, and new school in how he relates to people. Truth be told, it’s not Xs and Os where this guy shines, it is how he motivates, how he communicates, how he gets people to believe in him by believing in themselves. For anyone who thinks Al Golden, or even Steve Addazio after him, could have taken this program to the level it is now, you are sadly mistaken. That being said, Golden and Addazio both set the stage for a charismatic character such as Rhule to take the Owls to another level, the former salvaging the program from the scrap heap and pumping it with some life and the latter showing that, you know what, you can recruit at the most diverse university on the planet by selling everything it has to offer, football and beyond, realistically and potentially. Rhule was a limited-talent bit player for Joe Paterno at Penn State, but he soaked up every ounce of genius the old man still had to share, and he has imparted that wisdom in his own way while showing an emotion and passion that is refreshing. He loves his players and his program. That shows. He should be the “best” name on the market today, bar none. No one has done more. So, let the suitors come. If he’s meant to stay, and wants to stay, he will. If not, he won’t. That’s life, either way.
5. Maybe not trendy, but tough
Not sure what Temple and Under Armour had in mind when they reinvented the wheel, so to speak, with, essentially, the best uniform in the game prior to this season – but, you know, whatever. The Owls still look good, even with the goofy diamonds on their helmet stripes, pant legs and jersey sleeves (already replete with a completely unnecessary Temple '][' and contrasting school color to the rest of the jersey), they just don’t look “totally awesome” anymore … in the getup department. That being said, the toughness and tenaciousness they show on the field offsets any real negative vibes toward their style. Besides, their play, mostly, is bad-ass, big time, and they’re an especially exciting team to watch when the defense is on the field, with multiple Cherry & White individuals flying around to the ball … so how “ugly” could they ever look anyway? For those keeping track, the Owls wore the classic cherry helmet, cherry jersey and white pants combo against UConn, marking the third time they did so this season at home – Penn State and Notre Dame being the others. All impressive performances.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org