While the talent level has risen during his four seasons as head coach at Temple, what has really defined Matt Rhule's teams has been their toughness.

Rhule defines toughness as digging deep when things seem to be falling apart.

If that is the case, the Owls had plenty of opportunities to dig deep, but they ended up digging bigger holes for themselves during their 28-13 loss to a fiercely competitive Army team Friday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

What disappointed Rhule more than anything was how the Owls were soundly whipped on both sides of the ball.

Yes, Army runs the triple-option and that can be difficult to defend, but the Black Knights weren't forced to resort to much gimmickry.

This was old-fashioned football, blocking and tackling. Army, not overly big on the offensive line, pounded the Owls all evening, rushing for 329 yards. On defense, the Black Knights sacked Phillip Walker four times. In 14 games last year, he was sacked 18 times.

"I would not say we got beat by the option. We really got beat by the offensive line, the fullback, and quarterback," Rhule said. "We were not committed to being as physical as we needed to be."

For Rhule, this is a painful admission.

It was Army that showed true toughness, especially during the second half when the Black Knights' first two drives resulted in touchdowns. Those drives totaled 13 minutes, 27 seconds on 26 plays, all runs.

"When we lose, it is when we get dominated up front," Rhule said. "That is what happened."

So where does Temple go from here?

"All we can do is play better next week and get this season to 1-1," said Walker, who threw three interceptions.

Right now, the team's confidence needs a serious boost.

Last year, an opening 27-10 win over Penn State that included 10 sacks set the tone for Temple's 10-4 season.

Rhule can only hope this year's opener won't set the tone for the season.

Up next is Stony Brook, a Football Championship Subdivison school that opened with a 13-9 home win over the 19th-ranked FCS team, North Dakota.

Rhule kept telling his team all preseason how difficult Army would be and how the Black Knights lost so many close games (five by five points or fewer) during a 2-10 season.

So when Rhule tells his team that Stony Brook is no pushover, the players should listen.

Stony Brook is much bigger on both sides of the line of scrimmage than Army. If the Seawolves are as tough, Temple could be in trouble.

One gets the impression that practices will be extra difficult this week, and that is saying something because Rhule and the players pride themselves on hard work. And if any Temple player mentions Penn State, the Owls' third opponent on Sept. 17, there will likely be extra sprints to run.

So Rhule is hoping his team develops a tougher mentality. One lesson will be provided by the tape of Friday's game. Anybody watching can see Army perform a clinic on what toughness is all about.

mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard