WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
In 2015, Temple’s dream of becoming a nationally recognized football program finally came to fruition, as the Owls attained a 10-win regular season for the first time since 1979, while also clinching their first American Athletic Conference (AAC) East Division title. But the failure to hoist a conference championship trophy last December has left Temple with a feeling of unfinished business — a discontent that can only be erased by bringing additional hardware to Philadelphia.
Despite losing 16 distinguished seniors to graduation this past spring, the Owls’ new-look roster will begin the 2016 campaign at Lincoln Financial Field against Army West Point on Friday night. Fourth-year head coach Matt Rhule believes that Temple’s balanced leadership will step up to the challenge.
“If your preparation is any different when your expectations change, then you weren’t preparing the right way to begin with,” Rhule said following practice at Edberg-Olson Hall on Tuesday. “I hope that our preparation is the same, regardless of whether the expectations are high or low for us. A great team plays to its own standard. We never want to come in second-place to ourselves.”
Senior quarterback Phillip Walker, who tallied 246 completions for 2,973 passing yards and 19 touchdowns last season, will once again lead Temple’s offense. On the ground, first-team all-conference player Jahad Thomas will serve as the premiere halfback in the backfield, looking to match his career-high 17 scores and 1,262 rushing yards from a year ago.
“Once you show people that you’re a pretty good player, they’re going to be coming after you,” Thomas said. “I’m just looking forward to a great season and to win a championship, honestly. That’s the reason why I came here, to win championships and win games. We have a great opportunity this year with a great offensive line, a great defense, returning guys that have been here three or four years now, and this is the year we think we’re going to put it all together.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Owls’ personnel remains deep and strong, despite losing senior stars Tyler Matakevich, Matt Ioannidis, and Tavon Young. Redshirt seniors Haason Reddick and Praise Martin-Oguike will command the defensive line, while the linebacker core will be manned by senior Jarred Alwan, and redshirt seniors Stephaun Marshall and Avery Williams, who combined for 81 solo tackles in 2015. Junior Sean Chandler has quickly transitioned from cornerback to his new position of safety, after leading Temple’s defensive backs with 65 tackles and four interceptions last season.
While the Owls’ defense is ready for action, one of their biggest tests comes in the first week. Army’s dynamic triple-spread option threat, led by quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw and halfback Jordan Asberry, brings several challenges to its opponent. Temple defensive coordinator Phil Snow stresses the importance of each player fulfilling his role until the whistle blows.
“The biggest problem with the triple is that if one guy doesn’t do what he’s supposed to, the ball could come out,” said Snow. “We’ve got to be real disciplined, but the other part of it is you better be real tough to play this offense. They’re physical, they pride themselves on being able to run the football, so we better be physical in this football game.”
The last time Temple faced Army was in October of 2013, which resulted in a 33-14 victory for the Owls. But the win had significant meaning to Rhule and Walker at the time, as it was their first victory as Temple’s head coach and starting quarterback, respectively.
“I’m looking forward to playing Army, playing at home. It’s great to play back in front of our home crowd,” Rhule said. “We’re excited to play. We’re excited to see our kids play. They’ve worked hard. We still have a lot of work to do between now and the game, but I’m proud of them and the effort they’ve given.”
WEEK 1: ARMY WEST POINT @ TEMPLE, SEPTEMBER 2, 2016
LINCOLN FINANCIAL FIELD, PHILADELPHIA, PA
TV: 7:00PM ON CBS SPORTS NETWORK
RADIO: WHIP RADIO, PREGAME BEGINS AT 6:40