Published on October 2, 2014 at 11:39 pm Contact Connor: firstname.lastname@example.org | @connorgrossman Facebook Twitter Google+ Temple wanted to erase 2013.The Owls went 2-10 and finished with the lowest winning percentage in the American Athletic Conference. So when the Owls beat Memphis 41-21 to break a four-game losing streak and end the year on a winning note, preparation for 2014 began at 6 a.m. the next morning.The players were given shirts that read “Never Again,” and the work done in them began with 1,000 yards of 45-pound plate pushes. “I thought last year our players didn’t respect our brand of football and the way we do things,” said Temple head coach Matt Rhule. “So what we said was ‘Never again will we take winning lightly’ and ‘Never again will we get outworked.’”He chided his team for not having the focus and maturity to win. Both Rhule and starting quarterback P.J. Walker were in their first year in their respective roles, and that year of experience has been integral to this season’s turnaround. AdvertisementThis is placeholder textTemple (3-1) is off to a roaring start this season, with the best record in the AAC and a defense that has scored more points than it’s given up. That same unit has also given up a conference-low 48 points on the year. But mental adjustments had to precede the physical ones. “Guys last year would be upset, down and mopey,” said junior linebacker Tyler Matakevich. “We would have to come out each week and be like, ‘Guys when’s our luck going to turn?’ “This year it’s not ‘Why did you do this?’ or ‘You shouldn’t of done that,’ it’s ‘Don’t worry, we got your back.’”Matakevich praised his head coach for forcing the team to use the “never again” mantra as a motivational tool. It became a rallying point for a team whose morale faded as the close losses mounted last season, he said.Better football might be an indirect result of the movement, and the returns on his investment are paying off. “They’re significantly more mature and focused,” Rhule said. “This year they’re learning how to get better as the game goes on.”Temple is outscoring opponents 23-0 in the fourth quarter this year. It’s a monumental improvement for a team that suffered five one-possession losses last year, and the defense has been just as effective on the scoreboard. The unit scored on a fumble return and a 93-yard interception return in its 36-10 drubbing of Connecticut on Sept 27. The Owls have also forced an average of 2.67 turnovers per game, the best mark in college football.The defensive side is where the turnaround had to begin for Temple, after allowing a whopping 477 yards per game last season. “The biggest thing this year is that guys understand the defense now,” Matakevich said. “Guys know not only what their job is but the guy next to them.”Complimenting a lockdown defense is a more experienced offense led by Walker, now in his second year taking snaps. The offense is averaging 39 points per game — good for second best in the conference — and 342.5 yards per game.Walker has thrown for seven touchdowns and three interceptions with 805 yards on the season. “A lot is different from last year,” senior running back Kenneth Harper told the Philadelphia Daily News at the start of the year. “Last year we were immature … the whole offseason, (Rhule) kept pushing us to go as hard as we can and play at a championship level.”And for Rhule, the transformation isn’t necessarily about the offense, defense or a bigger victory total.The message was that never again would a season as treacherous as 2013 repeat itself, but to ensure that the players needed to deliver an attitude and work ethic worthy of the “never again” shirts and their uniforms. So far they have. “People might be better than us and beat us,” Rhule said. “But never again are we going to go out there and not play Temple football.” Comments
Orica Scott’s Caleb Ewan took the victory with Bennett’s Bora Hansgrohe team mate, World Champion Peter Sagan in third.They start their first stage race of the season tomorrow at the Tour Down Under.