Temple hasn’t forgotten about last year.
In the second to last game of the season, the Owls were up 21-0 at halftime against the University of Connecticut. But they couldn’t finish the job, and the Huskies climbed back to win 28-21. It was another trial of a disappointing 2-10 season.
“It wasn’t the year we wanted,” junior linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. “Instead of 2-10, it could’ve easily changed a bunch of close games. We just went back to the drawing board and just really sat down, came together and just figured out what we need to do.”
After a few close games from last season that had Temple leaving on the losing end, the team knew that it had to finish games.
“That was just one of our big emphasis this whole offseason,” Matakevich said. “We’ve just been pushing each other, I’ve been pushing these guys, to just finish. Everything we do you got try and finish it the best you possibly can, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”
With a 2-1 record to start the season, and coming off a lopsided 59-0 win against Delaware State last Saturday, Temple will open up American Athletic Conference play this weekend against UConn. This time, it will do so with lessons learned from last year.
“It goes away for a little bit, because we have to focus on the next game and the upcoming season,” senior wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick said. “But now that it’s UConn, you remember last year. For me I only played a quarter and a half because I hurt my thumb in that game. Last year was a learning experience, and we know not to do those same things that we did last year.”
Matt Rhule said he feels the team’s understanding of conference play has been crucial.
“I think the biggest thing on our end is that our kids understand now what it means to be in a conference,” coach Matt Rhule said. “We’ve gone from no conference to the MAC, to the Big East to the American. Now they’re starting to understand the league.”
Rhule described last season’s loss to the Huskies as a turning point for the team, considering the Owls have won three of four games since.
“We went out that Monday after that Connecticut game and we scrimmaged out here for two hours,” Rhule said. “There was a game that Friday, and that was Memphis, and my point to the team was you don’t take winning lightly, you don’t take losing lightly, you don’t go out to a game and say, ‘Oh, we kind of won this,’ and be happy.”
“I don’t mind winning or losing, I just want us to appreciate every opportunity we have to go play football,” Rhule added. “And that UConn game last year, we did not and since then I feel they at least tried to and so our team has matured since then.”
Walker looking for rhythm
Sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker isn’t happy with his play as of late, Rhule said.
Walker threw six touchdowns and has a 63.92 pass percentage through the first three games, but also has three interceptions.
“When you’re 64 percent and you’ve thrown six touchdowns, but you’re not happy with the way you play, that means you have high expectations, which is great.” Rhule said. “I’m just upset with three interceptions, and two of them being needless.”
Rhule acknowledges his own coaching decisions as a possibility for Walker’s early struggles.
“I think he just isn’t comfortable yet,” Rhule added. “Maybe part of that is my fault. I maybe should have let him play a little longer in the Vanderbilt game. Let him play a full game, get his rhythm.
No update on Williams
Sophomore running back Zaire Williams is out indefinitely with a bulging disc in his back, The Inquirer reported last Thursday.
Williams ran for 533 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, as a freshman last season. But he fell back on the depth chart this fall, with 17 yards rushing in the opener against Vanderbilt being his only numbers of 2014 so far.
Rhule had no update to offer at Tuesday’s press conference.
“He is just out for a while,” Rhule said. “I don’t know when he’ll be back.”
Nick Tricome can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @itssnick215.