The Owls weren’t perfect, and they didn’t have to be, because they’re good, top to bottom, and deep and if they play well, give effort and finish things off in any game against any team at any location, they’re gonna be in great shape come closing time. They ARE that damn good. When they play to their potential they are. This is not some mom-and-pop, dime-store silliness of an aw-shucks nice story here. The Owls are legit good because of the talent that’s been brought into the program, and the fact that talent has bought into Matt Rhule’s program. But, frankly speaking, playing to its potential has NOT been a strength this season for Temple. It has sleep-walked for large periods of time, either through poor execution or poor play-calling or some combo of the two, and yet, amazingly, rests at the cusp of double-digit wins heading into next Saturday’s regular-season finale. Against Memphis, though, there was no sleep-walking. No letup. No nothing. Just a good, quality effort from start to finish that, frankly, surpassed what most have raved about in regards to games against Penn State and Notre Dame. The Tigers represented the best offense Temple had faced all season, with the best individual performer they would face in QB Paxton Lynch at the helm. The Owls’ D, for all intents and purposes, shut down both. Averaging 43.7 points and 541 yards per game coming in, Memphis could only manage four FGs and 232 yards Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, and Lynch threw for 156 meaningless yards on 34 passing attempts (by far, his lowest output of the season). In short, it was pure domination by the Owls against an opponent ranked 21st in the nation at kickoff. The real beauty of the win, though, wasn’t that the defense responded when it had to. It’s that every aspect of the squad did. Including the often-invisible offense. All afternoon. So much so, in fact, that, not even a minus-two in the turnover battle derailed the performance.
2. This is what happens when you let go of the crutch
There is no denying what junior RB Jahad Thomas has meant to the Owls’ rise this season, especially the kickstart he gave the offense against Penn State and Cincinnati in the first two weeks. But he is a worn-down, banged-up, over-used entity at the moment, and has been for a month and change – and, still, Rhule and Co. kept going to the well time and again, always relying on him to salvage something, to save the offense or spark it. Until Memphis. Oh, the coaching staff called on him, probably more than it should have, just the same. But it didn’t base everything off him as it typically had – although those two fourth-and-1s with running Thomas, the smallest and least explosive back of the bunch, right up the gut were doomed to fail, and did. Ugh. Anyway, it did use other guys to tote the rock, and it did allow QB P.J. Walker to throw the ball in something other than second-and-longs or third-and-forevers … and, in doing so, hopefully, it learned – once and for all – that it has so many more weapons at its disposal than strictly Thomas and would be smart to utilize them all. Not for nothing, but David Hood, Jared Gardner and Walker ALL looked better than Thomas running the ball vs. the Tigers, and they certainly were more effective. The fact Hood and Gardner combined for 14 more carries than Thomas was refreshing, and that the team rushed for 200 yards on 46 carries with Thomas only accounting for 34 of them on 12 carries should be a revelation to Rhule and his offensive staff. This performance is what happens when you don’t rely so much on a horse you have ridden to near death. It allowed others, particularly Hood (14 carries, 61 yards, including a brilliant, spinning, Thomas-like 14-yard TD run in the second quarter), to stand out and Walker (14-for-26, 261 yards, two TDs; seven carries, 49 yards) to flourish.
3. Player to remember ... always
There are more gifted athletes who have worn the Cherry & White and others who have garnered more awards in the history of the Temple football program, but no one embodies the Owls – present day, past day and even future day – better than senior LB Tyler Matakevich, who, as you’d expect, led the team in tackles against Memphis in such understated fashion despite playing with all-out fury. T-Mat, if nothing else, is a testament to production. To producing and performing at a high level no matter what the odds, competition or score. He gives it everything he has, which is considerable, mind you, and he does that each and every game. He’s an amazing example of someone blessed with considerable skill, knowledge, desire and wherewithal … who manages to have all of that and his prep work translate onto the field. There is no wasted effort. There is no missed opportunity. Because of that, he will go down as one of the greatest to ever play at the school, and, by the eyes behind these words, he is the greatest of those great. Against the Tigers, he racked up 11 stops to lead Temple, as he has in that category every game this season. That number brought his season total to 107, a mark that allowed T-Mat to become just the seventh player at this level to record four 100-tackle seasons in a college career. He also checks in at 462 career tackles – 30 shy of the school mark – with as many as three games left to play. Thing is, he’s not just about numbers. It is how he plays, how he conducts himself that makes No. 8 the Ultimate Owl. Now and forever.
4. Never hurts to look good
The Owls went with a super-clean look against Memphis, rocking a white helmet, cherry jersey and white pants ensemble – and it was sharp. Thing is, Temple has become quite a fashion plate on the college football scene, teaming with Under Armour to produce a plethora of strong uniform combos, so it’s not surprising that it would win the appearance war once again. Still think the diamonds on the pants, helmets and shirtsleeves, instead of regular stripes, look silly, and the shirtsleeve design in general looks just bad. None of that will ever win me over. But the overall design, and the combo … beautiful, man, just beautiful. Actually prefer it to the classic cherry-cherry-white Temple has worn at home for decades. Obviously, looking good doesn’t necessarily equate to playing good, but with the Owls anymore, the two can go hand in hand. That made Saturday so nice, the team’s play actually matched up with its style: sharp, crisp, quality.
5. One hitch to all the hullabaloo
Please, spare me any words about the knowledgeable sports fan base that inhabits the city of Philadelphia and how it’s dedicated to all things Philly and blah, blah, blah. The reality is, Philly fans, and the media whose pigeon-holed slants totally shape their views, are extremely limited in their scope and lack the common-sense insight to grasp just how special a season this has been at Temple. It goes beyond beating Penn State and giving Notre Dame all it could handle. The fact less than 32,000 showed up Saturday to see two 8-2 squads who play at the FBS level, with one of them nationally ranked, is a flat-out disgrace. It is. It’s an embarrassment, and makes any commentary about the breadth of Philly fans’ knowledge absolutely laughable. Reality is, no way was there 32K there anyway. That’s a generous tip of the cap to the prepaid ticket sales, which saw a large portion of purchased seats never utilized. Temple’s student section came up small, too. Of course, those in it are part of the Philly fan base now anyway, so …
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org