Temple's football season turned on single-minded toughness
It dropped the Owls, defending East Division champions in the American Athletic Conference, to 3-3. That included a 34-27 loss to Penn State and a 28-13 loss to Army West Point.
Instead, their season was just getting started.
Temple (10-3) has won seven consecutive games, including Saturday's dominant win at Navy in the AAC Championship game. The Owls smothered the triple option, led 24-3 at halftime and forced the Midshipmen into passing situations. The result was two interceptions and a 34-10 victory.
"For us to say we did it," said Temple head coach Mark Rhule, "that’s the accomplishment."
The Owls also achieved consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in school history.
The loss at Memphis was the turning point. After the game, Rhule said, "The players said what needed to be said. The competitors we have on our team, the men we have on our team — they were ready to take one more step. And that’s what they did."
Ruhle took a symbolic step when he took over as head coach in 2013. He returned to the tradition of assigning jersey numbers 1 through 9 to the toughest players on the roster. “It’s just sort of a rite of passage for those guys,” he said. “It's something they’ve earned and they wear it.”
This year's No. 1 is Ventell Bryant, Temple's leading receiver with 744 yards. Running back Jahad Thomas (1,344 totals yards and 19 touchdowns) and quarterback Phillip Walker (2,899 yards and 20 touchdowns passing) also wear single digits.
And during the nation's sixth-longest win streak, they have led an offense averaging 32.7 points and outscoring opponents by 20.1 points.
Three more of Temple's toughest lead a defense that has allowed only 33 points in the past five games with two shutouts.
Stephaun Marshall is tied with the team lead with 60 tackles, Haason Reddick leads with 21.5 tackles for losses, including 9.5 sacks and Avery Williams has 59 tackles, 9 for losses.
Except for Bryant, a redshirt sophomore, they are all seniors. That made Temple's first conference championship since 1967 when they were in the Middle Atlantic Conference all the more special.
“The true thing for me about this is just to have these players to be able to call themselves champions," Rhule said, who was hired Tuesday as Baylor's head coach. "That’s the way they live their lives. When you win this conference, you’ve done something special. This a fantastic conference with great teams from top to bottom."
And when the Owls return to Annapolis in three weeks to play Wake Forest in the Military Bowl, they will be the No. 1 team from that conference.
Above: Mark Rhule celebrates Temple's 34-10 victory against Navy in the American Athletic Conference championship game on Saturday in Annapolis, Md. (Courtesy Temple Athletics)