Temple football coach Matt Rhule wasn't happy on Tuesday when he met the media immediately following practice.
A team that had followed the mantra "What's next?" after seven straight wins to start the season was having trouble following the philosophy a few days after the first loss, a crushing 24-20 defeat to Notre Dame in the final minutes last Saturday night.
Rhule knows if the 23rd-ranked Owls (7-1) can't shake the malaise caused by the first defeat of the season, one loss could easily become two even against an SMU team that brings a 1-7 record into the contest. Rhule said the Mustangs remind him of the 2-10 Owls team of 2013 that put a scare into some highly regarded teams, including eventual Fiesta Bowl champion Centreal Florida.
"We better move on quickly," said Rhule. "They're at a place we were two years ago. They're playing 23 freshmen. They're playing good football and they've just had some heartbreaks. We haven't had the bitter heartbreak of a tough loss in quite some time, but you have to move on. I was a raving maniac at practice (Tuesday). I was like 'Wake up, it's time to go.'"
The Owls are banged up and will be missing standout center Kyle Friend, who will miss the next few weeks. A number of other players, including top running back Jahad Thomas, defensive back Tavon Young and wide receiver Ventell Bryant, are nursing injuries.
"We'll find out a lot about our team this week," said Rhule. "Toughness and character emerge, and I think we have a lot of tough guys."
Rhule is concerned about the Mustang passing game, particularly freshman wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who is coming off an eight-catch, 165-yard performance against Tulsa. Two years ago, SMU won a shootout with the Owls, 59-47, though that was under former coach June Jones. Chad Sutton is in his first year as head coach.
"We have to come out defensively and not let up the big plays, play with energy and passion and more important play with discipline and technique," said Rhule. "We have to weather the storm early. We're a really good team when we expect the game to go to overtime. When we say this is a one-win team, we're a bad football team. Coach Morris is going to have them ready. They're going to score. They're going to take us to the brink and we have to be willing to go there."
Young said the Mustangs are different from the team the Owls faced two years ago but are still dangerous.
"We're expecting a tough game," said Yong. "They still have good players, they have a good quarterback (Matt Davis) who is a dual-threat. They have good athletes, good skill guys and big receivers. We just have to make plays."
Senior wide receiver John Christopher said the Owls will be ready to turn the page when they kick off on Friday.
"(SMU) will be ready to play and we just have to execute," said Christopher. "We're football players, we should be excited regardless (of who we're playing). We get to play college football, that's what we're here for. We'll be ready to play."