Temple’s head coach Matt Rhule wanted to make sure his team felt the 28-13 loss to the United States Military Academy.
As Army celebrated while its band played the school’s alma mater, Rhule had his team stand and watch right behind them, just as they do every time they play one of the military academies.
But there was more to it this time after the “whooping” Army had put on Rhule’s team.
“To be quite honest, I wanted our team to see it,” Rhule said. “I wanted our team to see them celebrate. I’m hurting right now. I want to hurt. … The older kids I want that loss to really sink in and then come back and find a way to win next week.”
“I think somewhere along the line we’ve gotten convinced that we’re this team that we’re not,” he added.
For Rhule, the game was similar to last year’s 32-17 loss against Toledo University in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl when the defense gave up 435 yards.
Rhule cited a close win against two-win Southern Methodist when the Owls allowed almost 400 yards, and a 44-23 loss to South Florida as two other examples he felt his team underperformed last season. In both games the Owls were favored on the road.
“When we’re supposed to win sometimes we don’t have a great football team,” Rhule said.
“We just got punched in the gut,” he added. “We’ll find out our character now. All the hype will be gone. All the expectations will be changed. Now it comes down to, ‘Let’s go play football. Let’s find a way to get a win.’”
“Embarrassed,” “disheveled” and “pathetic” were a few words Rhule used to describe his team in Friday’s loss to Army. “Gritty,” “tough” and “hard-nosed,” characteristics often used to capture the spirit of last year’s 10-win team, were not.
Last season, the Owls relied on familiar voices like linebacker Tyler Matakevich, defensive back Tavon Young, defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis and offensive lineman Kyle Friend to provide the necessary leadership when times got tough.
That group of seniors often pointed to its past defeats like a 4-7 freshman season and a 2-10 sophomore year as motivators for its success.
The makeup of this year’s team is a little different. A large chunk of the players do not carry the scars from 2013’s 2-10 campaign. The sophomore and junior classes have winning records during their time at Temple.
Until Friday, Rhule did not see the same rallying call from his current seniors.
After the game seniors Avery Williams, Phillip Walker, Dion Dawkins, Jahad Thomas and others made sure that was no longer the case.
“I mean all the seniors, we all hold ourselves accountable for how the team performs,” senior defensive lineman Sharif Finch said. “Obviously whatever we demand in practice shows on gameday. As seniors, we all hold ourselves accountable for what happens on the field. It’s just our mentality.”
“It’s going to come from the team what we do next, and they’re going to lead us,” redshirt-junior defensive lineman Jullian Taylor said.
Army’s offense and defense were the aggressors in Friday’s contest, specifically on the offensive and defensive fronts, where Rhule said his team was physically dominated.
The Black Knights rushed 67 times for 329 yards and four scores. Army’s defense tallied four sacks and held Temple to three yards per rushing attempt.
“We came in like we were entitled and expected to win more than we should have,” redshirt-senior defensive lineman Averee Robinson said. “We didn’t come ready to go to the body like what we teach and I think that was our pitfall.”
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com.