This was not your classic 39-point blowout in which dominance was determined from the opening kickoff and continued throughout in all-consuming, all-powerful fashion. No, there were some moments of trepidation early for the Owls fans who braved perfect weather to take in the American Athletic Conference football action at the Linc. Temple fumbled on the game’s first possession, and promptly fell behind 3-0. OK, so eventually things were cool after the Owls responded with a TD, right? Umm, not exactly since the Green Wave then went up 10-7 early in the second quarter, thanks to another Temple turnover, this time on a botched punt return, setting them up deep in Owls territory. The sleepwalking seemed to end shortly after that, though, considering Temple scored the next 42 points – all of them unanswered. If anything, this was a second straight example of where the program is right now, which is pretty far above most of its competition thus far. Teams the likes of Tulane, Charlotte and, yeah, sorry Penn State fans, but your Nittany Lions as well, don’t have the depth right now to match up with the Owls, especially their defense. On Saturday, the Green Wave were unable to crack 100 total yards for the game until the final, garbage-time possession in the last half minute. DT Matt Ionnadis, undersized DE Nate D. Smith and, of course, LB Tyler Matakevich set the tone for all that, and an offense that saw RB Jahad Thomas neither have the most carries in the game (third-stringer David Hood led with 16) nor the most impressive day (that honor belonged to Ryquell Armstead) proved to be eye-opening from the second quarter on.
2. One play changes all momentum
Don’t get the wrong idea … Thomas was a major factor in this one, garnering 54 yards on 14 carries and making two catches for 24 yards. He scored two TDs as well, both coming in the second quarter to take all the stuffing out of Tulane. Oh yeah, he also delivered the most critical play of the afternoon, one which not only rescued the Owls from their initially “out of it” selves, but knocked the Green Wave so far back on their collective heels that, amazingly, they never were able to recover at all. Down 10-7, the Owls started moving the ball only to see QB P.J. Walker sacked on a first-and-10 from their own 40 and fumble. The ball ended up rolling out of bounds at the hosts’ 21. That left Temple facing a potentially drive-killing second-and-29. Enter Thomas. Displaying the vision and cutting ability that makes him one of the most intriguing players in college football, the junior juked and jived his way to a 28-yard gain that not only awakened the crowd, but ignited the Owls’ offense. A play later he was diving three yards for the first down and three plays after that, he was diving what was left of a 10-yard run into the end zone for the go-ahead score, which also turned out to be the game-winner. Little doubt Temple’s talent edge wouldn’t have shown itself at some point even if that electrifying surge out of trouble didn’t happen, but no doubt it was the momentum-changer in this one.
3. Name of the game: Evolution
The fact Temple head coach Matt Rhule and his staff recognize that the team needed to move on from that over-reliance on Thomas it had shown in the first three games, and actually has done something about that the past two weeks is beyond refreshing. It’s a relief. Frankly, Rhule’s stubbornness (read: didn’t want any change) during his days at the Owls’ OC were one of the main concerns raised here when he was hired. Even after he was demoted by then-coach Steve Addazio, Temple was plagued by an inability to recognize change and refusal to make any, courtesy of “Daz” himself. But Rhule has been a study in evolving ever since he came back, from how he’s transformed a 2-win team in 2013 to one of the nation’s top stories in 2015, with the Owls currently 5-0. Even what he’s done with Walker has been successful, albeit odd. One of the more gifted athletes at that position, Walker somehow has been transformed into more of a game manager for the Owls whose running talents are just about never factored into the game plan. Can’t say that move receives full support here, or anywhere, really. But there is no arguing with the results. Walker’s individual numbers, not to mention his highlight-reel material, may suffer. But Temple keeps winning.
4. Pass rush makes return appearance
Following a 10-sack effort against Penn State in the opener, the Owls had recorded exactly two sacks total in their next three games – both by Smith. For a defense kinda reliant on making big plays to control the action, that was a trend that had to change, and it did against Tulane, with Temple getting to Green Wave QB Tanner Lee four times (1.5 each by Ionnadis and Smith, and once by Matakevich) and pressuring him countless others. That low yardage total (110) by the visitors, not to mention the two INTs recorded by Temple CB Sean Chandler, were directly attributed to all that. With the Owls still having to face some imposing offenses this season, Notre Dame and Memphis topping that list, it was good to see a return to that prior pass-rushing form. Because efforts like the one turned in on Saturday will be needed in the future if the team hopes to keep things rolling successfully along.
While the announced attendance right there may be a tad different than the amount actually in the building, the number (and those there) shows that Temple is starting to gain a little foothold in Philly. A year ago, two years ago, heck, even during that 26-win run over three seasons between 2009 and 2011, no way does this matchup draw anything more than 8 to 10 thousand, or even get, say, 20K announced. So many things factor: the win against Penn State for the first time in 74 years, the 4-0 start for the first time in 41 years, the city’s NFL team struggling early on, the rise of the AAC, tickets being somewhat still affordable, and, yeah, even more positive pub from the Philly media. Probably the most critical factor is timing. Right as the Owls were reaching this level as a program, their home schedule blossomed with the two-headed dream for ticket sales of Penn State and Notre Dame on the home slate. Many purchased season tickets because, frankly, those were cheaper than buying individual tickets for either of those games. So, even games like Saturday’s, are effected by those two games. Yet another sign that good fortune, at least some of it, finally has found its way to Temple.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org