Boca Raton Bowl Preview: #24 Temple vs. Toledo

WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin

For the first time in five years, the Temple Football Owls will participate in a postseason bowl game.

Although winter has arrived in Philadelphia, No. 24 Temple managed to escape the cold weather with a ticket to southern Florida, as the Owls will take on the Toledo Rockets in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl at FAU Stadium on Tuesday night.

The Temple Owls have flown from the nest and have landed in Boca Raton, Florida for the highly-anticpated matchup vs. Toledo. (Photo courtesy of )
The Owls have flown from the nest. The #24 team has landed in sunny  Florida for the highly-anticipated Marmot Boca Raton Bowl. The Temple Owls will take on the Toledo Rockets. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. (ESPN)

“This has been the perfect way to close out my senior year,” said defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis. “At this point in time, being down here for a few days, I’m ready to lock in and get this game rolling.”

While the team has tried to dedicate an entire week to bonding and relaxation, the challenge that lies ahead is on the gridiron, and the preparation for Toledo reminds Senior Tyler Matakevich that the holiday getaway is now over.

“It’s been great being with the team and having fun with them, but we’re also remembering it’s another business trip,” said Matakevich.

Since Temple’s last game, a 24-13 loss to Houston in the AAC Championship Game on Dec. 5, Matakevich took home notable hardware on two separate occasions, winner of the Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski awards for the nation’s top defensive player.

“I don’t think people really see Temple University as a football school. People overlook us all the time,” said Matakevich. “I hope some of these young guys and incoming freshman realize, ‘Hey, a kid from Temple can be something special.’”

A victory over Toledo would not only be Temple’s second bowl victory in the last 37 seasons, but the first time school history in which an Owls’ team won 11 games in a season.

“It’s been a great opportunity for us to be here,” said halfback Jahad Thomas, who finished the season with 17 touchdowns and 1,257 rushing yards. “To have a chance to play another game, to have a chance to win 11 games, and go down as one of the greatest teams that Temple’s ever had.”

Temple enters Tuesday evening with a record of 10-3, with losses to Notre Dame, South Florida, and Houston. The 10-win mark has only been reached twice in 68 total seasons, and a win against the Rockets would cap off the Owls’ magical season.

“I think the bowl game is going to be a great opportunity for us,” said Owls’ head coach Matt Rhule. “Obviously, to play on national TV, to be in Florida where a lot of our recruits are and be the only show on national TV that night.”

The spotlight was not as bright for Temple against Houston nearly three weeks ago, as the Owls surrendered 233 yards and three touchdowns to the Cougars’ offense. Temple quarterback P.J. Walker completed 26 of 44 passes for 287 yards with a touchdown and interception, while receiver Robby Anderson tallied 150 receiving yards for a score.

Toledo, winners of the Mid-American Conference (MAC), finished the season with a record of 9-2, earning their fifth bowl appearance in the last six years. The Rockets are led by senior quarterback Phillip Ely, who finished the season with 2,680 passing yards for 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Running back Kareem Hunt, Toldeo’s leading rusher, tallied 894 yards for 10 touchdowns, while backup halfback Terry Swanson also earned 870 yards for seven scores.

The Rockets will contend against a nationally ranked defense in Temple that recorded 33 sacks in 2015, tied for the best in the AAC, and has not conceded a touchdown to opponents in the last three contests.

“The biggest thing is just don’t change up anything we’ve been doing all year,” said Matakevich. “It’s worked this far, so why would you even change that up?”

Tuesday will be the eleventh meeting between both schools, with Toledo as winners of seven games.

“I’d like to finish in the Top 25,” Rhule said. “When people asked me early in the year, ‘What does it mean to be in the Top 25?’ I think I was pretty consistent saying, ‘I want to finish in the Top 25.’ That’s a goal. If we win (the bowl), I think we would. That would be my goal.”

WHIP coverage of the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl will begin at 6 p.m., followed by kickoff at 7 on ESPN.

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