With all of the controversy currently surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem, it was easy to notice when Matt Rhule pulled his team over to Army’s side of the field after Friday’s game to join the Black Knights as they sang their alma mater.
While Rhule admitted the move was something he always does when playing service academies, there was another motive behind the Temple head coach’s decision.
“To be quite honest, I wanted our team to see it,” Rhule said. “I’m hurt right now and I want it to hurt tonight.”
Oh, the Owls are hurting all right. Temple was grinded for 329 yards rushing and quarterback Phillip Walker threw three interceptions in a 28-13 season-opening loss to Army at Lincoln Financial Field (see Instant Replay).
The Owls (0-1) have now lost three straight games dating back to last season and followed up the historic 2015 campaign by opening the new year with a major misstep against an Army team that managed just two wins a season ago.
“Being 0-1 is never good. Losing a football game is never good,” Temple linebacker Avery Williams said. “Losing is never an option around me. I hate losing. It kills me, it eats me up inside. I want everybody to feel like that. I want us to feel this loss, man. I don’t want nobody out partying tonight. I don’t want no social media. I just want people to feel this loss, understand what losing feels like.
“We’re 0-3 right now. We’ve lost a conference championship, a bowl game and today. We’re 0-3. It’s never good losing. It hurts and I want it to hurt. I want it to hurt for the rest of the season.”
The Owls could be in store for much more pain as the season goes on if they don’t get their once ferocious defense in order. The unit looked every bit like a group trying to replace the playmaking and leadership of three players — Tyler Matakevich, Matt Ioannidis and Tavon Young — who departed for the NFL.
Temple had no answers for Army’s signature triple option, which helped the Black Knights (1-0) win the time of possession battle 35:48 to 24:12 and run 18 more plays than the Owls. Army running back Andy Davidson had 121 yards and two touchdowns as the team used eight different ball carriers to outgain the Owls by 246 yards on the ground.
“I think in practice we did a pretty good job of executing. Our scout team gave a pretty good look,” defensive lineman Averee Robinson said. “It’s a lot different in a game, it’s a lot quicker in a game. We just didn’t go out there and execute, which we should have. I fully believe we were prepared to but we just didn’t come to play.”
“They just dominated us,” Rhule said. “It wasn’t like, hey, this guy has it and he doesn’t have it. They literally just knocked us off the ball. Credit to them, credit to coach [Jeff] Monken. They physically dominated the line of scrimmage. … It wasn’t really like assignment football. They weren’t even running the option half the time. They were just handing the ball on the dive and knocking us off the ball. We weren’t able to knock them back.”
Temple may have been prepared for some defensive struggles early after losing such production on that side of the ball. What the Owls weren’t ready to handle were the struggles of their senior quarterback.
With starting running back Jahad Thomas out for what Rhule said is probably the first of several weeks with a hand injury, Walker failed to carry the load offensively. Sure, he threw for 168 yards to pass Henry Burris as Temple’s all-time leader, but Walker completed just 12 of 26 passes and was sacked four times.
Even when Temple held a 10-7 lead at halftime and when Walker helped bring the Owls within a point at 14-13 with 1:29 remaining in the third quarter, he never seemed to get really comfortable in the pocket.
Trailing by eight points down the stretch, Walker threw two of his three interceptions in the final 3:41 to seal the loss.
“It was just limited on how much we had the ball. It was just kind of hard,” Walker said. “We had to take advantage of our opportunities and make the best of it but we failed to do that.”
Temple is now forced to regroup after dropping just its second season opener in the past seven years in humbling fashion. That shouldn’t be an issue with FCS Stony Brook coming to the Linc next week.
However, the Owls know these issues could linger if they don’t find some real leadership and a true identity.
“I think somewhere along the line we’ve gotten convinced that we’re some team that we’re not,” Rhule said.
“I think we have to just kind of understand who we are. We’re not this team that’s gonna be up by 45 every game at halftime. I have not gotten that across. I can tell you I’ve said it. But, you know what, who cares how many times I’ve said it? I’ve got to say it some more times. I think some other players said it today for the first time, and I hope that our team will regain that focus.”