The Year After started Friday night at Lincoln Financial Field - the year after taking out Penn State and winning 10 times and having ESPN's

College GameDay

close Market Street for the Notre Dame game. The year after people began talking about Temple football in Philadelphia.

That 2015 season is officially in the books, courtesy of Army.

"They physically whipped us, and we looked disheveled," said Temple coach Matt Rhule. "At times, when it got hard, we did not react."

Whether Temple got worn out defensively is debatable. What is not up for discussion is that the Owls simply couldn't force Army into passing situations, which decided things. Final score: Army 28, Temple 13.

This summer, the most common question you heard about the Owls was simple and natural: "How are they going to be?"

The question still hung nervously in the air at Lincoln Financial Field around 9 o'clock, two hours after kickoff. Army, more than a two-touchdown underdog, had triple-optioned its way down the field right after halftime to take a lead.

Army's quarterback, Ahmad Bradshaw, would crouch behind center, practically on his butt, and then he'd keep it or get it to his fullback or pitch to a tailback, and if Temple stopped one play it usually wasn't stopping the next.

Temple had three points back immediately, drawing within a point, into the fourth quarter. Army went down the field again. Fourteen plays, 81 yards, almost seven more minutes off the clock. Two scoring drives without a pass attempt.

Protecting its lead, Army got into a third-and-5 situation and simply handed the ball twice to its fullback. Andy Davidson needed two plays, but he got five yards plus an inch.

It's easy to forget how in 2015 Temple had plenty of times when the games were up for grabs no matter the opponent, even as the Owls had started with seven straight wins.

This time?

"We'll find out our character now," Rhule said. "All the hype will be gone, all the expectations. Let's go play football."

Owls quarterback Phillip Walker hit similar notes. The senior had looked sharp early but finished with three interceptions. One was a good pass early off a receiver's hand, one a bad decision at a really bad time, the last a desperation toss when the game was already lost.

"We're going to go back Monday and fly around and see who really bought into this team," Walker said.

Asked about dealing with this, the quarterback said he had been on a 2-10 team, too.

"We know what losing feels like. We know what winning feels like," Walker said.

Temple, by the way, is supposed to be pretty good again this season, picked second in its division of the American Athletic Conference, with home games against the schools picked first and third. There is a trip to State College in a couple of weeks that will again define the season in terms of national recognition.

It wouldn't be fair, or even remotely correct, to write off the Owls with a snarky "Back to the old Temple." The AAC season is a grind, and the script will play out week to week.

"I think we're way ahead of where we've been in past years," Walker had said earlier in the week, an interesting comment in itself.

Rhule, thinking about two losses that ended last season, had talked about making more "like a true commitment to our system coming out of last year - OK, this is what we do and getting great at it so in crucial situations we don't panic as players or even as coaches."

At kickoff, four of last year's players were still on NFL rosters going into the final cuts. One of them, defensive star Tyler Matakevich, appeared on the big screen between the third and fourth quarters in one of those "Temple Made, Temple Proud" promos. The place roared at the sight of him.

It was the last big noise of the night.

"Somewhere along the line we got convinced that we're this team that we're not," Rhule said later.

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus