The Return of “Temple Tuff.” Owls pull off historic upset against #23 East Carolina

Owls rebound from 2-game skid by going back to "Temple Tuff" philosophy.

Owls rebound from 2-game skid by going back to “Temple Tuff” philosophy.
AF4O5395-2Nov 1, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Temple Owls coaches and players celebrate a big play on the sidelines in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates. Temple defeated East Carolina 20-10. (Zamani Feelings-Coach & Player Magazine)

PHILADELPHIA (C+P) — It was cold. It was dreary. It was windy. The field conditions were less than optimal. It was the type of day that would make someone feels miserable. On the day that had an announced attendance of 22,130 (many who stayed home because of the rain,) the Temple Owls upset the 23rd ranked East Carolina Pirates 20-10. With the win over their first ranked opponent since 1998 and first home win ever against a ranked opponent.

On the flight back from Orlando after the 34-14 loss to Central Florida, Head Coach Matt Rhule described the team as “shell-shocked.” Then, early in the week, Rhule received an email from a voice from the past.

“Coach [John] Chaney came in one time and talked to us. He told us the way to win at Temple was to be tough. T-U-F-F- John Chaney tough,“ Rhule stated in his postgame news conference. “Coach (Wayne) Hardin emailed me this week along with other great Temple people. We made a decision to go back to who, and what Temple is this week; Play good defense, special teams, run the football.”


Temple Owls defenders Nate L. Smith (13) and Tyler Matakevich (8) tackle East Carolina Pirates’ Quay Johnson (20) in the second half at Lincoln Financial Field. (Zamani Feelings – Coach & Player Magazine)

Temple took the philosophy to heart and used it toward the victory. The defense gave up 432 offensive yards. However, it was not until the fourth quarter until the Pirates were able to reach the end zone. The defense forced seven fumbles, five of which were recovered by the Owls defense. Defensive coordinator Phil Snow did some different things to counter an ECU offense that ranked in the Top-10 in a lot of offensive categories.

“I think the guys executed what we had in mind. What we did is dropped 8 a lot and rushed 3.  We had some other little wrinkles for them that they had not seen. They thought we would play a lot of man coverage on third and six or less, which we had all year, but we did not play any. We changed some tendencies. And then some things just fell right.”

There was a different feel to the game in the fourth quarter. A team that had lost many close games last season in the second half transformed itself into a team that can rise to the occasion in crunch time. The biggest moment came with 11 minutes left in the game. “I told them [the offense] we were going to run the ball three more times and take some time off the clock and put it in the defenses hands.” Rhule stated.

The defense answered by not allowing ECU to tie the game.


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Temple Owls linebacker Tyler Matakevich attempts to recover a fumble in the second half against the East Carolina Pirates at Lincoln Financial Field. (Zamani Feelings- Coach & Player Magazine)

Games of this magnitude require a team’s best players to perform at or above the level of ability they are capable of producing. Linebacker Tyler Matakevich collected 16 tackles,one tackle for a loss, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery. Matakevich, a junior, did not miss one play on defense. He was even out there on punt returns.

“Our defense did their job out there,” remarked the linebacker. “We played six seconds and we got turnovers. Coach told us from the beginning that this would be a defensive game.Everyone stepped up. “Matakevich sees the defense starting to turn the corner. “Watching everyone grow up, we used to point fingers. Now everyone is saying ‘I messed up’ or ‘I did this. I’ll get it right.’ That is the complete difference. Everyone is taking ownership and listening to the coaches.”

The Owls now enter a short week. On Friday night, Temple will take on Memphis in Philadelphia. A win against the Tigers would make Temple bowl eligible since 2011. With a win against a Top 25 opponent and a win against a SEC team, Temple would have a strong resume for some attractive bowl games. Temple will take things one game at a time. The most important thing to see will be how “TUFF” the Owls will be the remainder of the season. The irony about this game:  Two hours after the game the sun came out. Poetic?  Unlikely, but it sure makes for a good story.

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