The Temple University football team took a big step last week when it followed up an opening 27-10 win over Penn State with a 34-26 victory at Cincinnati.
A program that had struggled to back up one win after another did just that with its first win over the Nittany Lions in 74 years and a road victory over the American Athletic Conference favorite.
This week brings a new challenge. After two straight weeks of winning as the underdog, the Owls will travel to Massachusetts as a double-digit favorite in the non-league game.
Coach Matt Rhule wasn’t having much of the favorite conversation, noting the Minutemen have a championship-winning coach in Mark Whipple and a future NFL quarterback in Blake Frohnapel, who threw for 225 yards in the opening 48-14 loss to Colorado.
“They have an outstanding head coach, who is much more accomplished than I am,” said Rhule. “He’s won a (I-AA) national championship, coached in the NFL. He’s someone I look up to.
“They have nine returning starters on defense, and it’s the first time we’ve faced a 3-4 defense. They have an NFL quarterback who can make any throw. They have two tremendous receivers in (Tajee) Sharpe and (Marken) Michael who are special players. They are a proud group and a dangerous offense.”
Sharpe caught 11 passes for 138 yards against the Buffalos. Overall, the Minutemen produced 397 yards of offense.
However, with the exception of the fourth quarter against Cincinnati, the Temple defense has played extremely well. The Owls sacked Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg 10 times and picked off Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel four times.
“We can only control what we can control and what we can control is competing every single play,” said senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who is off to a terrific start. "They have a lot of good skill players. We have our hands full.”
Junior running back Jahad Thomas says the Owls still remember the 2-10 season of two years ago when they lost to FCS Fordham.
“This is Week 1, we’re not sleeping on anybody,” said Thomas. “We just worry about us, do our job and compete. The mood hasn’t changed.”
Despite their two victories, Rhule still sees a lot of room for improvement. He said the team was upset it almost let a 22-point lead slip away until Matakevich’s end zone interception sealed the deal in the final seconds.
“I almost had to beg the guys to celebrate after the game,” said Rhule. “We had a chance to run Cincinnati off the field and let them back in the game. Nobody’s happy right now. Clearly last week was a big step, it was a sign of a mature team. But it’s over.
"We didn't play to the level we need to play at yet."
Temple playing role of favorite
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