For the second time in five years, despite being eligible, Temple won’t be going “bowling.”
Whilehead coachMatt Rhule might argue that the Owls’ season shouldn’t be over and they that should be preparing for postseason play, the reality is the team has only itself to blame.
It’s hard to make a case for a 6-6 team when it loses five of its last seven games.
On the other hand, every team the Owls lost to was invited to a bow, but Temple’s offense managed just three touchdowns the last four games and stumbled to the finish line this season.
“We absolutely deserve to go to a bowl game,’’Rhule saidSunday, moments after learning the bad news.
Temple’s defense surrendered just 17.5 points a game after being carved up for 29.8 points last season (going 2-10), but it simply didn’t matter. The American Athletic Conference had just five bowl tie-ins and Temple was No. 6. Next year the AAC will have at least seven tie-ins.
“To play the schedule that we played; to play seven bowl teams, to play in this conference and go 4-4 we deserve it,” Rhule said. “But we aren’t and we’re just going to move forward with it.”
The Owlshave a good chance to be better than a .500 team next year,losing just three starters — none on defense — while being fortified by 15 players who werered-shirted this season. But it won’t be easy with a schedule that includes home games vs. Penn State and Notre Dame.
Unless quarterback P.J. Walker, who regressed dramatically this season after being a freshman sensation a year ago can turn it around, the offense will continue to struggle.
“Last year, it was kind of just fun and gun for him,” said Rhule of Walker, who went from throwing 20 touchdowns with eight interceptions in 2013 to just 13 scores and 15 interceptions in 2014. “We weren’t stopping anybody, so just throw it every play and hope for the best. This year, he’s had to operate on a different deal. He had to make a lot of plays and he didn’t play well enough.’’
It didn’t help that Walker was also Temple’s leading rusher with 478 yards — minus 154 yards lost on sacks. The team averaged just 108 yards on the ground. The Owls need to find someone to take the load off of him, along with better receivingcorps.
The defense demonstrated all season it can get the job done, not only keeping teams off the scoreboard but with it’s impressive 30 turnovers. With standout linebacker Tyler Matakevich (88 solo tackles and 117 overall, six games in double digits) heading what will be a senior laden group, that again figures to be Temple’s forte in 2015.
“We expect that when you hit your senior year, you’re playing at your highest level,’’ Rhule said. “Even more important than next year, it’s now.It’s the winter program. I think they’ll take that and run with it.”
A lot can happen between now and September 5, when the Nittany Lions come to town. In the meantime,Rhule believes the pieces are in place for Temple to post its first winning season since Steve Addazio’s 2011 club went 9-4 and beat Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl. The previous season Al Golden’s 8-4 Owls were snubbed.
He expects this latest snub to serve as motivation.
“I hope they see that we’re all suffering together,”Rhule said. “That to me is where you can build a program that’s going to withstand time.I expect them to come out flying from this.”
For the 6-6 Temple Owls September can’t get here soon enough.