Up 21-0 on a winless UConn team three years ago, Temple lost its focus. 

Rather than standing on the sideline and staying engaged in the game, the Owls huddled around the heaters at Lincoln Financial Field to get out of the cold. As they did, the Huskies came back to score 28 straight points for a comeback win.

That was Matt Rhule’s first season at Temple and the freshman season for this year's group of seniors. The team finished 2-10 in 2013. Since then, the Owls have gone on to win at least six games three years in a row, beating the Huskies the past two seasons.

What did they learn from the 2013 loss?

“You need to play the whole four quarters to win a college football game,” senior quarterback Phillip Walker said Tuesday. “We let up with the weather and how cold it was and thinking about other stuff after the game.”

“That was part of the growth process for these seniors,” Rhule added. 

It will be cold again Friday night in East Hartford, Connecticut, when UConn and Temple meet at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. The forecast calls for a low of 32 degrees — just the way this group of Owls likes it.

“Us Temple guys, we’re to the gridiron,” senior offensive lineman Dion Dawkins said. “We’re Temple tough. The weather has no effect. The coaches will probably want to run, so we’re going to just have to buy in and run the ball.”

 

The Owls have run the ball effectively two weeks in a row. They rushed 51 times for 319 yards on Oct. 21 in a 46-30 win against South Florida. Rhule’s team ran 60 times for 275 yards in last Saturday’s 34-13 win against Cincinnati.

Sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead and senior running back Jahad Thomas have combined for 478 yards and six touchdowns in the two wins.

“We’ve just taken it personal to get the running backs the yards that they deserve,” Dawkins said. “Before it was kind of lax. We’ve kind of seen it on the film and things that we could do so much different.”

With each win, Temple inches closer to reaching the American Athletic Conference championship game in back-to-back seasons. If the Owls win their remaining three games against UConn, Tulane and East Carolina, they’ll win the East Division. They’ll have to hope for a South Florida loss if they slip up.

“We don’t want someone else to lose the championship,” Rhule said. “We want to win the championship. That’s the first thing. We’re not going to sit there and watch other teams on our side and say, ‘Hopefully they lose.’”

Connecticut kids
Freshman running back Isaiah Wright asked Rhule if he’d be able to stay up in Connecticut for a few days after Friday’s game against UConn. Redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Jaelin Robinson has been practicing hard this week in order to get a chance to play in his home state.

The two are among three players Rhule recruited from Connecticut to Philadelphia. Redshirt-freshman quarterback Logan Marchi is the other. Former Temple standout linebacker Tyler Matakevich is also a Connecticut native.

The Huskies have some players out of Temple’s recruiting pipeline as well. There are 15 kids from New Jersey and 10 kids from Pennsylvania on Connecticut's roster.

“There’s not one part of our team that thinks of us as a favorite in this game,” Rhule said. “We’ve all grown up playing against each other. This is the one game of the year where we’re playing against guys we played in high school.”