The sound of a whistle from Edberg-Olson Hall pierced the cold autumn air.
Despite Temple’s season coming to a close with last Saturday’s 41-21 win at Memphis, the team returned to practice on Monday morning. The Owls were doing a drill that Matt Rhule said is a way for his players to say, “I’m in.”
“They were out there at 6 a.m. doing 1,000 yards of plate pushes to set the tone for what we’re going to do next year,” the first-year head coach said at a news conference Monday.
“We’re going to get ready for 2014 right now,” Rhule added.
Temple’s first season in the American Athletic Conference ended on a positive note, as the Owls posted their second highest point and yard total of the year against the Tigers, with 41 and 534 respectively. In the process, Temple picked up its first conference win of the season – one that Rhule said was “long overdue.”
“This year, we found out a lot about this team,” sophomore linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. “We never gave up. We have playmakers all over the field, whether it’s on offense or defense. It just took some time for all of us to come together and start the game flying and finish the game flying.”
But as the team looks toward next season, statistics show that the Owls had an opportunity to achieve more than they did this fall. Temple scored 42 touchdowns in 2013, equal to the amount given up to its opponents. The Owls tallied 2,996 passing yards which breaks a school record previously set in 1994. Freshman quarterback P.J. Walker, who replaced redshirt-junior Connor Reilly as the starter in a road game at Cincinnati, finished with 20 passing touchdowns – two shy of Brian Broomell’s school record of 22 that was set in the 1979 season. Coming off a breakout rookie campaign, Matakevich led the nation with 106 solo tackles.
But for all of the aforementioned success Temple achieved, the team has a 2-10 record to show for it – currently equating to last place for the Owls in The American standings. Part of the problem can be attributed to poor defensive play. Temple allowed an average of 474.3 yards per game, the worst in the conference and one of the worst in the country.
Another fault of this Owls squad was an inability to close out games, as Temple held second half leads in six of its 10 losses. The team held leads within the final two minutes of regulation in three of those games – against Fordham, Rutgers and then-No. 15 Central Florida.
Despite some tough losses, Rhule remained positive when addressing the team’s performance this season.
“I felt like this year, seeing how easy it is to lose a game, seeing how small the margin is for error was really good for our team and the program moving forward,” Rhule said. “I think we now have a sense of urgency – a mentality that this program didn’t have before. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but I think we did it and we can’t lose that.”
“What we have to do now is recruit and develop and we have to find some players who can help us win those tight ball games,” Rhule added.
The recruiting process is well underway. Finding help at kicker will be one aspect of recruiting Rhule said his staff needs to focus on, as the Owls missed five extra points and six field goals this season. Another area Temple needs help in is pass rushing, as Rhule said the team needs players that can step in and contribute immediately.
With the Owls preparing to welcome in a new group of freshmen, the Memphis win was the collegiate finales for the seniors on this year’s squad – including Chris Coyer, Ryan Alderman and Paul Layton.
Coyer, who was Temple’s starting quarterback last season, was moved to tight end this year and embraced the role while still serving as one of the team’s leaders. Coyer was the Offensive MVP in Temple’s victory against Wyoming in the 2011 New Mexico Bowl, the program’s first bowl win in more than three decades.
After the loss to Connecticut, Coyer emphasized a desire to end the season on a winning note to give the returning players momentum going into the offseason. Rhule said Coyer probably shouldn’t have played because of an ongoing ankle injury, but the fifth-year ended his Temple career with a career-high 129 yards including a 75-yard touchdown pass.
“I want to leave behind a group of guys that have learned how to win and are set and ready to go win a championship,” Coyer said. “With all of the seniors that we did have and all of the seniors we do have, it’s still a very young team – and a team that’s got a lot left to learn.”
Avery Maehrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.