Make no mistake — Temple froze on all fronts during its 31-10 Friday loss against Houston. The entire Owls program was humbled, but the offensive linemen seem to be taking the loss especially hard. Members of the unit described a lack of energy against Houston and a departure from the focus on fundamentals that helped the Owls soar to an unexpected 4-1 record and a share of the American Athletic Conference lead. Now at 4-2, a game back in the AAC standings and with games with the conference’s heavy hitters on tap for the foreseeable future, Temple’s offensive line has just a few days to to correct last week’s glaring mistakes.
In the end, the prevailing hope is that the embarrassment suffered by the line last week will spur the unit to a solid showing this weekend.
Temple’s oft-discussed “process” began anew on Saturday and Sunday, both of which were officially off days for players. Owls starting right tackle Eric Lofton, along with others, spent time dissecting tape from the Houston debacle. It was an unpleasant reminder of how badly things went against the Cougars, Lofton said, and how much needs to be fixed before going back on the road to play Central Florida this week.
“We all need to be locked in,” Lofton said. "We’ve got to be a fist out there. We can’t be five fingers. We can’t be selfish with penalties. It still kills me because I had two of them (against Houston). That was really selfish of myself.”
The line’s troubles went far beyond penalties as it struggled to gain leverage in the trenches throughout the game. Temple running backs labored to net just 98 yards. The on-rushing Houston defense harassed Temple quarterback P.J. Walker all evening, too, sacking Walker twice and forcing the player into one of the worst outings of his 13-game career as a starter. Walker finished the game 12-of-29 passing for one touchdown, 259 yards and three interceptions.
Lofton wasn’t alone in continuing to beat himself up for Friday’s performance. As of Tuesday, few within the Owls program had wiped their conscience clean of matters concerning the letdown at Houston, including head coach Matt Rhule.
Rhule now walks the fine line of using the loss as a teaching moment while also preparing his offensive linemen for the next challenge. Temple’s next challenge will look very similar to its last: A nationally-televised game against a 4-2 Central Florida team with AAC title-game aspirations. They’ll have to turn the page sooner rather than later.
“(Teams) the last couple week have been testing us physically, and we haven’t responded the way we want to,” Rhule said. “People have been pressuring our quarterback and stopping our run… I think our kids have to quickly get that taste out of their mouth.”
Despite the reluctance of Lofton and others and move on, it isn’t all bad for the offensive line. Friday was definitely a setback, but the unit has already honed in the specific area that should correct the many problems that arose against the Cougars.
“We’ve got to be the more physical team,” left guard Shahbaz Ahmad said. “That’s all it is… In order to be the more physical team it starts now.”