BY THE NUMBERS 5.2 Yards per carry for RB Jahad Thomas through Temple’s first six games
3.9 Yards per carry for Thomas through Temple’s last four games
72 Carries for Thomas last four games
24 Carries for RBs other than Thomas last four games
7.3 Yards per carry for those RBs last four games
23 Carries for QB P.J. Walker last four games
5.0 Yards per carry for Walker last four games
0 Games of 100 yards rushing by Thomas last four weeks
1 Games of 100 yards rushing by someone other than Thomas last four weeks
12 Where Thomas ranks in nation with carries this season
24 Where Thomas ranks in nation with rushing yardage this season
161 Where Thomas ranks in nation with yards per carry this season
It’s a tough way to make a living in winning.
To prevail after being pounded. To succeed after being smoked. To emerge victorious after being beaten, soundly, thoroughly.
Perhaps it was during those impressionable days of his youth in tree-lined State College that Matt Rhule fell in love with this style of football, during a time when his hometown Penn State Nittany Lions were in the midst of a decade-long run or so of delivering a doctorate-level course in how to do it. Or maybe it was as a young man playing for Joe Paterno at a time when such victories were few and far between, but the belief in that style, just the hint of it, still wafted through the locker room.
Conservative. Close to the vest. Blue-chip talent on hand be damned.
If a “W” were going to be gained, best to let the other team blow it than actually earn it yourself, right? So seemed to go the thought process. Big-name teams, small-name teams, didn’t seem to matter. The routine was set in stone: run it, defend, capitalize on opposition’s mistakes, especially late, and, viola, victory.
Ingrained in such Blue & White pride, most PSU fans would view such exhibitions as statements of greatness, of dominance. The most telling of all being the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, which harkens all kinds of delusional memories and rationalizations, ranging from “We kicked Miami’s ass” to “We knew it all along.”
Oh, you can’t argue the final score: Penn State 14, Miami 10.
But the Lions looked pretty much the same as Ronda Rousey did post-knockout this past Saturday night, all bloodied and battered and out of it. For good reason. They got obliterated in every facet by the Hurricanes, getting outgained by an incomprehensible margin of 445-162, except two: obviously the scoreboard and in turnovers, which saw PSU emerge as a plus-6.
Just guessing here, but pretty certain Rhule was entranced by it all, watching on television, and, like most, ultimately focused on one thing: the final score. Not the rather fluky way it came about.
Fast forward almost a full 29 years, and it is clear Rhule has taken many of the philosophies he witnessed and learned at Penn State, and put them to good use as head coach of the Temple University football program.
Let me make this abundantly clear: He has a believer in yours truly. The way he has built the Cherry & White program. The way he has become an integral part of the community. The way he motivates. The way he recruits. All of it, well, put it this way, it just oozes “winning” in the view here.
The one part of his ways that doesn’t, though, is that aforementioned style of winning. That’s not good football. That’s not even good football teams finding a way to win. It’s being fortunate enough to have things fall your way at the right time – regardless of what you do to make them happen or not.
Truth be told, even ardent PSU realists who have a sincere grasp of what went on back in those days would have a hard time swallowing some of the magical acts Rhule’s Owls pulled off this season.
They were so off-the-charts insane they were mind-numbing. What they did in waning-seconds escapes at Massachusetts and East Carolina defy description and belief. What they against to save face against winless Central Florida at the Linc in between was no less miraculous.
But my issue, as it’s always been, is that if you live that way, you’re gonna die that way – sooner or later. Right now, sooner and later have converged all at once for Rhule’s current squad.
The reality of the situation is, Temple has trailed at some point in every single game it has played this season. Think about that. EVERY. SINGLE. GAME. Not just to the likes of Penn State and Notre Dame, but UMass, ECU, UCF, Tulane, SMU and Charlotte – a less-than-Murderer’s Row of Six that have a combined record of 12-48 this season.
The fact the Owls’ record is 8-2 right now is as much a testament to the football gods finally smiling down on them in an almost “haven’t they been through enough” way as it is their toughness and perseverance.
But those feel-good vibes, obviously, have faded after a 7-0 start. Not only did Notre Dame give Temple a taste of its medicine on Halloween night, but South Florida just completely undressed it this past Saturday night, basically delivering a Holly Holm-like sidekick to the collective head of the Owls.
All that conservative, close to the vest, blue-chip talent on hand be damned belief got obliterated before a national TV audience.
Here’s the thing. The belief here – the FIRM belief here – is that Temple is far and away better, potentially, than it has shown in any single game this season. But the Owls are in trouble now, having painted themselves in a must-win corner likely in each of the next two weeks if they hope to play in the American Athletic Conference title game because of falling in love with a rope-a-dope strategy that has left them outta gas for the home stretch, with an overused running back in Jahad Thomas and an under-utilized quarterback in P.J. Walker, whose skills were dwarfed by Quenton Flowers this past weekend as the South Florida sophomore looked to be a carbon copy of the 2013 Walker.
You know, the one who let it rip while displaying an other-worldly wheels-arm combo. Not the current, sanitized one who fits ever so nicely in that win despite being beaten game plan.
Only now, as expected, that game plan isn’t working anymore.
It’s time for a change. Immediately.
In short, go and beat the living hell out of a team right from the jump … and don’t let up. Otherwise, an outcome like last Saturday’s three-TD will become more of the norm instead of the exception, beginning with this Saturday’s game against No. 21 Memphis.