You probably can’t throw the records out the window when 7-1 Central Florida, the No. 15 team in the nation and the lone unbeaten in the new AAC, takes on 1-8 Temple Saturday at the Linc (noon, ESPN3). But that won’t prevent Matt Rhule’s Owls, who’ve dropped two games where they led inside a minute, from trying to make it a tough day for the Knights.
After all, that’s been their pattern all season, which Rhule says has taught them plenty but has given them little to show for it.
“They’ve learned it in steps,” said Rhule, coming off an excruciating 23-20 loss at Rutgers, where his offense failed to put the game away on fourth and inches, then saw the Scarlet Knights convert the game winner on fourth and 10. “They learned early at Notre Dame they can compete against anybody.
“They learned you can’t take anyone lightly against Fordham. They learned you have to come out and play hard early and couldn’t be afraid of the battle against Louisville. Most recently they learned you have to play well to the end against SMU and then last game they learned you have to finish.
“I want them to understand you can do everything right and at the end of the day in the final moments you still have to do everything right.”
That’s assuming they’re still in the game at the end, of course. Central Florida has beaten Penn State, Louisville and Houston, while Temple has lost to the latter two, plus the Fighting Irish. No doubt, the Knights are heavy favorites. Led by dynamic quarterback Blake Bortles (68 percent completions, 15 touchdowns passing and two rushing) and running back Storm Johnson (719 yards rushing and nine TDs), with a defense that’s allowed just 18.6 points a game while forcing 20 turnovers, George O’Leary’s team appears to be loaded.
But Rhule insists Temple, which is scoring at a 30.5 clip since freshman P.J. Walker was installed at quarterback, is improving.
“The message to the kids is we’ve come a long way,” said Rhule, who’ll wind up his first season hosting Connecticut, before traveling to Memphis. “Now we need to learn to finish.
“This has been a fun team to coach. I know that might sound crazy looking at our record. It’s definitely been frustrating, but I see the growth … We’re trying to build this for the long haul; a program that competes for the highest level. As we move forward, things look bright for us.’’
Perhaps in the future. But probably not on Saturday.