Temple head coach Matt Rhule simply didn’t think he’d ever experience a “Friday Night Lights” environment in his football career, but that’s exactly what he and his team will be walking into later this week.
Rhule will lead the Owls (4-1, 2-0 AAC) into TDECU Stadium on Friday to play the host Houston Cougars (3-3, 1-1 AAC) in a nationally-televised American Athletic Conference contest (ESPNU). During his weekly press conference at Edberg Olson Hall, Rhule discussed some of the challenges the Owls will face during their trip to Texas and several recent personnel developments.
A victory at Houston would move Temple to within one win of bowl eligibility. Of course, that’s no small task considering the hostile environment the Owls are likely to encounter. Las Vegas also seems to think the Cougars will protect their home turf — VegasInsider.com listed Houston as an eight-point favorite on Tuesday afternoon. But Rhule said he likes it that way — with his team again playing the role of the underdog, far away from the comforts of campus and bunkered down with his players and coaches.
"I’m excited to be an underdog again,” Rhule said. "It’s more fun. We’re going to get on a plane and go down there. People don’t think we’re going to beat (Houston) and play against all these great players that beat us last year. That’s why we coach — we want our kids to have these environments and these moments.
"It’S Friday night lights. We’re going down to Texas to play on Friday night. It’s something you dream of, something I never thought I’d have the chance to do.”
Houston will be looking to build on its first conference win, a 28-24 Saturday road triumph against Memphis.
Keith Kirkwood explanation
Temple fans and media alike were surprised to learn Saturday that Hawaii transfer Keith Kirkwood will be eligible this season. NCAA rules typically call for student-athletes to forego a year of competition after completing a transfer. However, Rhule confirmed that Hawaii, Temple’s compliance staff and the NCAA collaborated in a process that resulted in granting Kirkwood his eligibility.
“I think it’s a credit to the NCAA, because it’s a decision in (Kirkwood’s) best interest,” Rhule said during his Tuesday press conference. “It’s a credit to Hawaii because they supported it… They supported his decision to come home.”
Rhule was hesitant to discuss specifics of the process, but said that the spirit of the NCAA’s “student-athlete welfare” rules weighed heavily in granting Kirkwood’s eligibility.
Offensive line injuries
Temple's running backs netted 203 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday's 35-24 win against Tulsa. Replicating that performance against Houston will require another strong outing from the Owls’ offensive line, which paid the physical toll against the Golden Hurricane. Fortunately, the offensive line should be at or near full strength by kickoff against the Cougars, Rhule said.
Freshman right tackle Leon Johnson had a successful Tuesday practice while starting sophomore left tackle Dion Dawkins, who is still fighting off the physical effects of the Tulsa game, took one final day of rest as a precaution. Considering that Dawkins will likely be ready in plenty of time for Houston, freshman Jalen Robinson remains in line for a redshirt despite filling in for Dawkins on Tuesday.
“Jalen is going to be outstanding in a year and, really, for his sake, I don’t want to play him if I don’t have to,” Rhule said. “Dion will hopefully practice (Wednesday). Knowing Dion, he’ll be ready to go.”
Friday Night Lights: Temple at Houston
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