Matt Rhule is getting tired of losing.
“We’re beyond the point of where it’s OK to lose,” the second-year coach said after a 31-24 loss to Navy on Saturday afternoon, “That was last year. It’s time to win.”
Since 2000, the Owls have allowed more than 400 rushing yards to two teams – Army in 2012 and Navy on Saturday.
Rushing for Temple’s highest total rushing yards allowed dating back 14 years, Navy’s 487 yards on the ground played a critical role in the loss.
The 487 rushing yards on Saturday were nearly 200 yards more than the Owls’ total rushing yards during their first two games.
The Midshipmen heavily relied on the running game, accounting for 94.2 percent of their total offensive yards. The run proved successful for Navy, as the Owls did not force their counterparts to punt until early in the fourth quarter.
Rhule said Navy’s discipline is a model for where his team needs to be.
“There’s no finer team to teach you [discipline] than that team,” Rhule said. “Everyone on that team does their job and executes. We’re just kind of in that process.”
Players said the defense knew Navy’s triple-option game plan from the beginning.
Weeks of preparation ensured that each player understood his responsibilities against Navy’s offensive scheme.
Despite the preparation, once facing the Midshipmen offense, the Owls failed to contain Navy’s multiple threats on the ground.
“[Defending Navy’s offense] is kind of tough, but we’ve prepared for it all camp and all last week,” redshirt junior Nate D. Smith said. “[We] just didn’t get to the ball fast enough. We didn’t get off our blocks fast enough.”
In order to combat the various possibilities that each option play could result in, each member of Temple’s defense was required to maintain discipline and focus on their responsibilities.
“We just had to play assignment football,” junior linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. “If you’ve got the dive, you tackle the dive, if you’ve got the quarterback, you play quarterback and if you have pitch you’ve got pitch.”
However, the Owls struggled to consistently execute their individual assignments when presented the task of anticipating the different plays Navy threw at them.
“[Today] was 100 percent on us just not doing our assignments,” Matakevich
said. “With a team like this you know they’re going to get yards and you have to take it one snap at a time.”
Regardless of the preparation, the Owls allowed a slew of yards, including a 173-yard showing from Navy junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who singlehandedly out-rushed the entire Temple offense.
The Owls bit on a Navy hard snap-count, resulting in the Midshipmen adjusting to Temple’s called schemes.
Matakevich claims that played a big part in the offensive exploitation of the defensive game plan.
“We probably shouldn’t have showed [our schemes] so early,” Matakevich said. “We were trying to anticipate [them]. They were definitely making changes off of us.”
“Once they see what type of pressure you might be bringing or what defense you’re in they make the checks, too,” he added.
Even with Navy’s overpowering running game, the Owls were in a close game, forcing three turnovers, one for a touchdown off a fumble recovery from sophomore defensive lineman Sharif Finch.
The Owls found themselves within a touchdown, deep in Navy territory in the game’s final seconds, but failed to score before time ran out.
Walker, instead of throwing the ball down the field for a first down in order to save time, ran the ball twice in the final 15 seconds of the game.
The Owls, who used all three of their second half timeouts in the third quarter, sorely missed the ability to stop the clock on their final drive.
After a Walker scramble for six yards that didn’t stop the clock, the Owls got off one final snap for a Hail Mary pass.
After not finding anyone open, Walker decided to take off and run, needing to make it 24 yards to the end zone, a decision that ended the game.
“Those two plays were critical mistakes, “Rhule said. “The quarterback’s got to throw it up. … For us not to throw that ball up into the end zone was disappointing.”
Rhule doesn’t believe the team’s performance was where they expect themselves to be.
“That was not the way we want to play,” Rhule said. “It wasn’t crisp, it wasn’t clean, it wasn’t physical enough.”
EJ Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @ejsmitty17