Temple's singular focus has the Owls one game away from a title
NEW ORLEANS -- All year Temple has used a weekly theme of going 1-0. That meant not looking past the game at hand to the bigger picture. Coach Matt Rhule didn't want his team worrying about future opponents or division championships.
Now if the Owls have one more 1-0 week, they will be able to look ahead. If Temple beats East Carolina in Saturday's 7:30 p.m. American Athletic Conference game, the Owls would win their second straight East Division championship, earning a second consecutive trip to the AAC title game. Navy has already clinched a berth as the West Division champion.
Temple (8-3 overall, 6-1 AAC) has won five in a row. The Owls haven't allowed a point in more than 158 minute and they will be heavy favorites over an ECU team that is 3-8, 1-6 and is coming off a 66-31 loss to visiting Navy.
It's possible that Temple could clinch the East Division title before kickoff. If Central Florida beats South Florida in their noon game, then Temple would clinch.
Rhule has said all along he doesn't expect South Florida to lose and that Temple doesn't want other teams doing their work for them.
So the Owls should be ready.
If Navy wins its 3:30 p.m. game Saturday at SMU, the Midshipmen would likely host the title game based on tiebreakers over Temple.
The Owls insist Navy isn't on the radar, only East Carolina.
And there is one other subplot - the underclassmen want to send the seniors off on a high note. It will be senior night on Saturday and that is always an emotional time.
"The seniors have talked to us, they have engaged in us a lot more after a slow start," said redshirt sophomore receiver Ventell Bryant after catching nine passes for 168 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's 31-0 win at Tulane. "The seniors picked us up and told the younger guys that 'we really need you guys if we are to be successful' and that is what we have done."
That slow start included an opening 28-13 loss to Army. In fact the Owls were just 3-3 after a 34-27 loss at Memphis. They haven't lost since and as Rhule would like to say, Temple has been 1-0 for five straight weeks.
So now the prize is clearly in sight, but Rhule will keep the Owls focused only on ECU. He will no doubt tell them about receiver Zay Jones, who became the all-time Football Bowl Subdivision leaders in receptions and now has 392 catches for 4,218 yards and 23 touchdowns.
"It's obviously a great thing (being in this position) but at the end of the day, it is the same process every week, get ready for East Carolina, Zay Jones and the high flying attack."
Temple will prepare to face an ECU defense that allowed nine rushing touchdowns against Navy.
Regardless, Rhule will have his team believing they are facing a certified power.
And even though the team is feeling pretty good about things, Rhule doesn't want them being too comfortable.
Immediately after the win over Tulane, the Owls were in 1-0 mode.
"Everything is not done yet," said defensive end Haason Reddick, who has 20 tackles for loss, which is a new single season AAC record. "Once it is over and we accomplish the goals we set out, then I will celebrate."
Until then, it's one game at a time, trying to go 1-0 for a sixth consecutive week.