Owls riding Wave into league play

Saturday’s homecoming matchup against Tulane will start a closing stretch of seven of eight games in the league. Last year the Owls were just 4-4 in the American and 6-6 overall and found themselves on the outside looking in when bowl bids were handed out.

The Temple football team couldn’t have done a better job in its non-conference portion of the season and now enters a stretch of contests within the American Athletic Conference.

The Owls already have a leg up in the American as they secured a 34-26 victory at Cincinnati in Week 2 in which they knocked off arguably their toughest competition in the East Division. Temple is 4-0 overall with wins against Penn State, Massachusetts and Charlotte.

And there is still one non-conference game left – a little meeting on Halloween against Notre Dame.

But Saturday’s homecoming matchup against Tulane will start a closing stretch of seven of eight games in the league. Last year the Owls were just 4-4 in the American and 6-6 overall and found themselves on the outside looking in when bowl bids were handed out.

“Conference play is what matters the most,” said senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich. “A win’s a win but the conference gets you a little more excited.”

Tulane is 2-2 overall and 1-0 in the league after knocking off winless Central Florida in its conference opener. The Green Wave got blown out in its first two games against Duke and Georgia Tech.

The Owls are also returning home for the first time since starting the year with a 27-10 win over Penn State. They pulled away in the second half for a 37-3 win over Charlotte last week after needing to win late against Cincinnati and Masachusetts the two previous weeks.

“Been getting my cheesesteak every Friday getting on the plane, been in my routine, but it’s good to be home,” said head coach Matt Rhule. “It’s obviously different being away.”

Rhule credited quarterback Tulane Qb Tanner Lee, who has thrown for 878 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. The Owls have faced some of the better quarterbacks in the country already this year.

The Green Wave defense is led by linebacker Nico Marley, who has 31 tackles, including 4.5 sacks. Last year, Temple won at Tulane, 10-3, so it knows it will be a challenge to put points up against the Green Wave.

“I love the way Tulane’s defense plays, they play with a swagger,” said Rhule. “They’re an aggressive defense. They had seven sacks and held UCF to minus-35 yards rushing. There’s no secret. They’re going to get in your face and play man coverage.”

Likewise, Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said he liked what he sees from the Owls and especially credited their special teams, which has scored three straight weeks.

“Huge challenge,” said Johnson in his weekly press conference. “Going on the road to play a Temple team that should have been in a bowl game a year ago. They’re one year older. They’re probably the best team in the conference right now. You look at it and ask, who’s beaten who? Well they beat Penn State, and that’s a pretty good football team.

“They’re playing well and playing at a high level. It’s a huge challenge since they have everyone back from a year ago. They have great defensive linemen. The linebackers and the defensive front is outstanding. Everyone in the secondary is back. Offensively, the quarterback is back and the running back is key. They have two great receivers and a big offensive line. Certainly, a big challenge for us.”

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