Forget what the schedule and calendar says. The season didn’t end for 2-10 Temple Saturday when the Owls crushed Memphis, 41-21, to at least salvage something out of a disappointing year.
In the minds of first year coach Matt Rhule and his players, it’s just the beginning.
“I want to win,” said sophomore linebacker Tyler Matakevich, the nation’s runaway leader in solo tackles with 106. “It’s going to take so much out of all of us, so I’m trying to take everybody along with me. Today was the first step.”
That’s why as soon as they handed in their uniforms, the returning Owls went straight to the weight room to begin training for 2014. From freshman sensation quarterback P.J. Walker right on down to kicker Nick Visco, who made more field goals in the final game (two) than in the first 11, they know there’s much to do if Temple is to bounce back.
“As we look ahead, I think the hard lessons we learned were things we had to learn,” said Rhule, whose club lost three games where it had the lead in the final minute and led in the second half eight times. “Seeing how easy it is to lose a game, how small the margin of error, will be really good for our program moving forward. Now we have to recruit, develop and find players to help us win those games.”
Fortunately for Rhule, he has a quarterback in Walker who threw for 20 touchdowns and averaged 232 yards passing after taking the reins a month into the season, and a defensive leader in Matakevich to build around.
“I have to learn to protect the ball,’’ said Walker, who also threw eight interceptions. “You can’t win games if you turn the ball over. I learned a lot each game, each week. But now I need to get into better shape and learn the offense better.”
According to Rhule, such dedication — especially considering the frustrating way the season went, with Army and Memphis the only breakthroughs — can’t help but bode well for the future.
“As I told these guys right from the beginning, I’m going to raise the standards, the ‘price of admission’ here,” said Rhule, who was an assistant on Al Golden’s staff when the Owls went from 1-11 laughingstock to 9-3 in just three seasons. “That’s why we started this morning. You have to be positive and start moving forward. This is what we did once before.”
Can they do it again in the new American Athletic Conference, where they’re in the basement at 1-7? With the help of some new recruits to shore up some of those deficiencies, don’t “Rhule” it out.
“We averaged 400 yards a game, the second most in school history,” Rhule said of his pitch to prospective recruits . “That shows the direction we’re headed. People see an opportunity here. They see we were a play or two away from winning so many times. People like the way we’re playing and that we’re not afraid to play young guys.
“We tell kids they can make a difference.”