PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In just two weeks the Temple Owls will open the 2014 season with an August 28th visit to Nashville, Tennessee, to play Vanderbilt.
The Owls are a couple of weeks into their preseason workouts and head coach Matt Rhule thinks things are going well.
“I think we’ve made real progress,” Rhule tells KYW Newsradio. “I’m really pleased with the team. Young players that are coming in as freshmen, they’ve assimilated quickly and there’s a lot of talent in that group. I think overall our players understand what it takes to win and they are working hard to get there.”
Temple went 2-10 a year ago (1-7 in the American Athletic Conference), but seven of those losses came by ten points or fewer. They lost four games by three points or fewer. Rhule talks about trying to change that trend in 2014.
“I think as a coach you always want to feel like you can control things and try to teach things,” Rhule says. “But at the end of the day, experience is the greatest teacher. The first part of learning how to win is getting rid of the things that cause you to lose, learning how not to lose it. A lot of those wounds last year were self-inflicted, but our kids have been great about it. They’ve learned from it, they learned from it last year, they kept coming back week in and week out. We’re just a completely different football team right now, those guys are understanding what is being asked of them. So the next step really is to go have the confidence to go win one of those nail-biters at the end. To go out there in those crucial moments, not be paralyzed, not be nervous, go out there and play football, the game you’ve been playing since you were young, the game you love and let it all hang out and win one of those games. Once we do that, I think it will be a huge step for us, but I know we’re well on our way.”
The Owls are in good shape under center. Sophomore P.J. Walker exploded onto the scene as a freshman, completing 61% of his passes for 2,084 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also rushed for 332 yards and 3 more scores. All this despite playing in just 9 of Temple’s 12 games.
“P.J.’s had a great camp,” Rhule says. “He’s working hard to make himself a complete quarterback. He’s trying to eliminate the things that cause you to lose, the penalties, the turnovers, that maybe had us finish a little bit short at times last year. We know once the games start, his gamesmanship, his athletic ability, will take over. What we’re doing right now is really working on his discipline, his technique, his fundamentals and he is an active participant. He wants to be a great player and he’s working really, really hard and I think you’re going to see really good quarterback play come the fall.”
Rhule says the offensive line will be a big key for this team this season.
“Replacing four starters is always a hard thing,” Rhule says. “(We’re) counting on some young players, some inexperienced players. I’m really pleased with that first group. They’ve proven to me that they’re ready to play and they’re ready to play at a high level. Beyond that, we still have some work to do to make sure we find out who the next guys to go into the game are. Who are our 6th, 7th and 8th linemen?”
The Owls scored just under 25 points a game last season, but they allowed nearly 30. Rhule thinks they are moving in the right direction on the defensive side of the football.
“I think the biggest thing is we have a lot of depth,” Rhule says. “Last year we weren’t a tremendous pass rushing team. As we’ve adjusted to this new league, this dynamic league, there’s a lot of high scoring offenses. So I’m really pleased with our defensive line, especially our defensive end position. I think we’re deep, we have some guys who can get to the quarterback and rush the quarterback. I think that what was maybe not necessarily a strength last year, now may become a strength as we try to get to the quarterback.”
The Owls were picked to finish 8th (out of 11 teams) in the AAC preseason poll.
That season opener on August 28th against Vanderbilt will kick-off at 9:15pm.
KYW’s Matt Leon spoke with Temple Head Coach Matt Rhule about the upcoming season.