All eyes on them

Notre Dame quarterback Deshone Kizer is tackled as he throws the ball Saturday. | Jenny Kerrigan TTN
Notre Dame quarterback Deshone Kizer is tackled as he throws the ball Saturday. | Jenny Kerrigan TTN

Before coach Matt Rhule could exit his press conference Saturday night after his team’s 24-20 loss to Notre Dame, ESPN broadcaster Chris Fowler, who called the game on ABC, stopped him at the doorway.

After Fowler exchanged words with Rhule, Kirk Herbstreit, Fowler’s broadcast partner Saturday night, shook hands with the third-year coach. The rush to Rhule continued when American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco grabbed him aside.

Rhule and his team were in the spotlight for most of this past week in preparation for their game against the Fighting Irish, the No. 9 team in the  AP Top 25 poll.

Following a week full of attention, Saturday night’s game, played in front of 69,280 people at Lincoln Financial Field, took center stage on ABC’s Saturday Night Football.

“It was fun just for Temple, right?”  Rhule said. “What I said to the team before our game was this, ‘GameDay and ESPN being there and all that … that was for our fans. That was for our university, who we’re very proud to represent.’”

The promotion surrounding Saturday night’s contest was a matchup between two Top 25 teams that was unexpected prior to the season.

The then-No. 21 Owls, who were ranked for the first time since 1979 after not being ranked during the preseason, came into Saturday night’s game with an opportunity to measure themselves against a Top 10 team.

“If they’re not sure how good they are, now they know,” Rhule said. “It’s not like we caught Notre Dame at 11 o’clock in the morning in front of 12,000 people. This was the moment.”

In Saturday night’s loss, Temple had a platform to prove its legitimacy to a national audience—the Owls stayed in the rankings at No. 23 in Sunday’s AP Poll in spite of the defeat.

“They learned that we can play with anybody,” redshirt-junior defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the No. 1 team in the country. … We can play with anybody. We have a lot of talent, and we have … some great coaches. It’s just the beginning of a great team.”

The attendance for the Owls’ contest with the Irish was the highest for a Temple Football game at the Linc, breaking the previous record of 69,176 set Sept. 5 in a 27-10 win against Penn State.

The team, which watched pieces of ESPN’s College GameDay broadcast Saturday morning, did not realize the magnitude of the events surrounding the game.

“Just being able to weather the storm and keep noise out, we did a great job of that,” Martin-Oguike said. “We didn’t even know how big it was outside of football, outside of the facility.”

The Owls’ 7-0 start prior to their game against Notre Dame was the best in program history. Saturday was the second time since 1979 Temple played a game as a ranked team—the last was Oct. 22 in a 24-14 win against East Carolina.

Junior running back Jahad Thomas said while additional attention on the team was frustrating at times, it is a sign of  the accomplishments for the team this season.

“I’m kind of glad that this week is over, just with all the cameras and stuff in your face after practice,” Thomas said. “But you know as college athletes and just as players, you have to expect these things when you’re winning, being 7-0, when you’re playing a team like Notre Dame.  … You just have to embrace it.”

The team hopes this moment will not be the crowning achievement of its season.

“We worked very hard, so it’s about time we got some kind of coverage,” Martin-Oguike said. “It’s not the greatest thing to happen to us. There’s going to be greater things to come.”

Owen McCue can be reached at owen.mccue@temple.edu or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.

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