By Tom Dougherty, CSNPhilly.com
Temple head coach Matt Rhule was not pleased with his team’s effort Tuesday during practice at Edberg Olson Hall.
“I don’t know if our team has let it go yet and that’s a scary thought,” Rhule said at his weekly press conference.
The Owls dropped a heartbreaker to No. 8 Notre Dame on Saturday night in front of a record crowd at Lincoln Financial Field. In many ways, it taught the nation a lot about Temple football.
Losing, 24-20, to ND proved TU belonged in the top 25 and it remained ranked after the loss, now No. 23. On Tuesday, the Owls were ranked No. 22 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings.
The outside world saw a Temple team, one no one imagined would host ESPN’s College GameDay and play on ABC in primetime, come one play shy from bringing down Notre Dame.
But on North Broad Street, the Owls have a game in Dallas on Friday night to focus on and that’s something Rhule needs his team to do fast.
“It’s time to move on. It was a great football game (Saturday),” he said. “I don’t know if our guys have. They haven’t been through this yet.
“They haven’t had the heartbreak of a really disappointing, bitter loss in quite some time. You got to move on. It didn’t feel like the energy [was there]. We better get it quickly.”
Friday night’s game against SMU doesn’t offer the same pregame hype Notre Dame did. The Mustangs are 1-7 and last in the American Athletic Conference West division.
SMU is 0-4 in the conference and enter on a six-game losing streak. Its only win came Sept. 12 at home against North Texas, a 31-13 victory.
Is it difficult for Temple to go from playing a legendary college football program to a team playing mostly freshmen and sophomores?
“It’s not the same buildup,” quarterback P.J. Walker said. “But that’s outside. In here, it’s the same buildup. We have the mentality that we’re going to go out there and play our best football.
“The same we had last week, the same we had Week 1. We just have to go out there and have that mentality that we’re going to play our best football this week.”
To the Owls, the Mustangs remind them a lot like themselves two years ago when they finished 2-10 in Rhule’s first season at TU.
In 2013, Temple was a young team and the results on the field showed. Despite winning only twice, the Owls were in most of their games; they lost five games by seven points or fewer.
The Mustangs fell, 40-31, Saturday against Tulsa. SMU, a young team that’s only going to grow, now presents 7-1 Temple with a different challenge.
“They’re like us my freshman year,” Walker said. “They’re a team that goes out there — they have nothing to lose. They’re going to play their hardest and play like they have nothing to lose.
“It’s not hard, it’s not easy. It’s something you got to play through. You have to realize you have another opportunity to win a conference game and you have to look forward to it.”
Rhule acknowledged Temple’s slow starts but admits the Owls are at their best when they expect tight games, when they expect each game “to go to overtime.”
“Then we play every play without a lot of pressure,” he said.
He also said he doesn’t want his team to look at SMU as a one-win team because that’s dangerous, too.
“If we’re going to get caught up in this, that and the other, we don’t play well,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to say, ‘This is you guys two years ago.’
“We took a lot of teams to the brink and SMU is going to take us to the brink. We have to be willing to go there.”
Running back Jahad Thomas, who is among several banged-up Owls who are questionable for the SMU game, said Friday night’s game being in-conference helps get over the ND game.
At 4-0 in the AAC, Temple still has a chance to win the conference and host the conference championship game.
And getting to the conference championship game always has been the Owls’ goal this season.
“If we go out there and don’t play as well as we can (against SMU), this is a team that you can be beat by,” Thomas said. “We definitely want to win every game.
“It’s a chance that if we go out there and not play as well as we can, we can lose and possibly not make it to that conference championship game.
“This game is more important than last week and that’s the way we approach it.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: See the story on CSNPhilly.com)