Temple focused on Cincinnati after historic win vs. Penn State

When the clock ticked zero Saturday, the score read Temple 27, Penn State 10.

It was the Owls’ first win over the Nittany Lions since Oct. 18, 1941. Head coach Matt Rhule on Tuesday called it a great win for Temple, its football program, students and alumni.

On Saturday night, North Broad Street felt like a college football town. Students celebrated throughout the night after TU’s historic win. It’s a win this generation of Owls will not forget.

“That game’s over. It was awesome,” Rhule said after Tuesday’s practice. “I’m sure (the players) went to a party or hung out with their families afterward. That’s all over. What’s next?”

For TU’s aspirations this season, a matchup with more meaning than the Penn State game: a road game against the American Athletic Conference favorite, Cincinnati Bearcats.

Beating PSU is not lost among the Owls. It was the program’s first win over its intrastate foe in 74 years. It’s another sign Temple’s football program is growing under Rhule’s direction.

But Rhule’s approach is “what’s next?” When he took over in 2013, the Owls were not ready to compete for the AAC. Last season, they were bowl eligible but didn’t get an invite.

This season? Many expect Temple to be competitive in the conference and its season-opening win did nothing but confirm that notion.

For the Temple community, snapping the 39-game losing streak to PSU was a relief, but to the Owls it had no impact on their objective.

“Our goal is to win a conference championship and that game had no affect on that,” senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who had three sacks against PSU, said. “We’re getting focused on Cincinnati and we’re preparing. That’s the one thing I would say we do really well. We got guys in here every night late, studying and watching film. That’s a sign of a good team.”

At 8 p.m. this Saturday at Nippert Stadium, Temple kicks off against Cincinnati in an important conference game against a team that has handled the Owls the last three seasons.

Last season, the Bearcats beat the Owls, 14-6. Since 2002, TU has been outscored, 50-36, in three meetings with Cincy. Temple also enters Saturday on a five-game losing skid against Cincinnati. The last time the Owls were victorious against the Bearcats was Oct. 5, 1985.

And with Cincinnati on the schedule, a team this group of players has lost to before, Rhule believes it’s beneficial for the Owls to put the Penn State game behind them.

“It’s helpful that we’re playing Cincinnati because they’re so good and they’ve beaten us,” he said. “Last year was the first close game. The other two games were blowouts. They haven’t really been close. I think now, our kids know that this is a really good team and we have to play great.”

In Cincinnati, Temple faces a high-powered offense. Last season, the Bearcats averaged 34.0 points. In its season opener, Cincy spotted 52 points in its win over Alabama A&M.

Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel completed 18 of 22 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns. Kiel enters Saturday with 33 career touchdowns to 13 interceptions. Cincinnati has three running backs that can do damage — Tion Green, Hosey Williams and Mike Boone — six senior wide receivers and a strong offensive line.

“How do you get them to be ready? We will be ready,” Rhule said of preparing for Cincinnati. “That I’m not worried about, but is ready good enough? This is a really good team. This is a really dynamic offense.”

What makes Cincinnati’s offense so good, Matakevich said, is its speed. The AAC Defensive Player of the Week called the Bearcats the “definition of speedball.”

Temple’s defense entered the season as the team’s strength. It was a dominant unit last season and held Cincinnati to 14 points. The Owls are coming off an impressive showing against PSU. Ten sacks and an interception against an offense led by Christian Hackenberg, who many see as a potential first-round NFL draft pick.

Still, those 14 points weren’t enough to beat Cincinnati last season. The Owls forced 30 turnovers last season but only one against Cincy, something they’ll need to do Saturday.

“We played pretty well last year, but we didn’t play good enough,” Matakevich said. “We still lost. We’ve been watching film, seeing what we did wrong, seeing how they schemed us, and looked at all the games last year. Preparing the best we possibly can.”

Saturday night marks the first of three straight road games for Temple. After Cincy, the Owls are at UMass and Charlotte before returning to the Linc on Oct. 10 against Tulane.

It will be a while before Temple takes the field again in South Philadelphia. When it does, the atmosphere will be different than this past weekend.

While this Owls team is a veteran squad, there are freshmen that Rhule expects to contribute. Running backs Ryquell Armstead and Jager Gardner got playing time against PSU, and wide receiver Ventell Bryant reeled in two catches for 41 yards. To the freshmen, all they know is a 27-10 win over Penn State.

What can the freshmen take away from a win like that?

“It gives them the mindset that there’s something here, that there’s something that’s growing,” quarterback P.J. Walker said.

“It’s a process and you got to believe in the process. Believe in everything that we’ve been doing since I’ve been here and that’s something I’m learning still. Learning to believe everything that Coach Rhule is telling us. It’s working. We won a big game. Believe in each other, believe in your teammates and believe in the coaches.”

And there is something there.

What’s next?

*Story originally published on NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com on Sept. 9, 2015.