When Temple plays Notre Dame on Halloween, it could be thebiggest game in school history.
But the 6-0Owls football team, off to the best start (tied with two other 6-0 teams) in school history face perhaps a more important game Thursday night, somewhatunder the radar at East Carolina.
“I’m really pleased with our progress,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule told the media this week, “pleased to be where we are and we know it’s going to be an unbelievable battle in a really hostile environment on a short week.”
Temple of course came alive in the second half last Saturday at home to down UCF and officially enter the national college football landscape.
Though the East Carolina Pirates are not a household name when it comes to college football, the squad has won its last two games against Top-25 opponents (Temple is ranked No 22), and the Owls will play their first game as a ranked team since 1979 Thursday night at 7 p.m. (on ESPN2).
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If nothing else, East Carolina can really pack them in and the school is known for big crowds. The team is 4-3 with a 2-1 mark in the conference, and a win by the Owls can all but lock up first place in the American Conference’s East Division — and a berth into the conference title game in December.
“I’m proud of our defense, the way they have played the last two days is special,” Rhule, who was nominated this week as a finalist for the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year award,said. “We gave up 110 yards against Tulane and then135 yards against UCF…We are in the top 25 in pretty much every defensive catgory.”
If Temple is going to remain unbeaten when the No. 11 Fighting Irish ascend on Lincoln Financial Field, on Oct. 31 at 8 p.m., their defense will again be key Thursday night.
Temple ranks 13th in all of college football in total defense, having allowed just eight touchdowns from its opponents in six wins.East Carolina has lost 14 straight games when scoring 20 or fewer points and with the Owls allowing an average of just 14.7 points per contest, a low scoring affair certainly favors Temple.
For all their success, the Owls were 2-10 two yearsago and 6-6 last year. The turnaround has been thoroughly impressive, even if it has only been half a season. A team with a bevy of weaknesses in addition to several strengths, the Owls first and foremost need to continue to not only win, but to learn and get better as the season continues along.
“We are a work in progress,” Rhule, 40-years-old and in his third season with Temple, said.”I am trying to teach these kids how to winand they’re trying to teach me how to win. I don’t have all the answers.”