Golden Rhule: Temple wants to build on milestone victory
PHILADELPHIA — Matt Rhule skipped the victory dance after Temple's whopper of a victory over Penn State.
But it was peanut butter and jelly time.
Rhule stopped by the South Philadelphia Tap Room for a little dinner to-go after the Owls thumped Penn State for the first time in 74 years. He ordered one its famed fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from his favorite neighborhood hangout for a celebratory dinner.
There was no word if Rhule washed down the sandwich with milk or something stiffer warranted for such an occasion — though the Owls sticking it to Penn State doesn't seem like such a nutty idea anymore. Rhule's family, coaches and other friends all wanted to share the joy that goes along with a milestone win and crashed the family pad. On campus, students were in a partying mood after packing the stands and singing the fight song hours earlier.
"I hope it painted a picture of what college football can and should be," Rhule said Monday.
Quality college football was more blue sky thinking for most of Temple's existence. Long one of the worst programs in the sport, the Owls have made strides toward relevance over the last seven years, with a pair of nine-win seasons and two bowl games.
Rhule has the Owls aiming higher.
He wants Temple to become regular winners, and make beating teams like Penn State the norm, not just fleeting moments of glory. The Owls have struggled to crack fans' sports conscience in a city with a glut of pro teams.
The Owls won in front of a record crowd of 69,176 at Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the NFL's Eagles, and the upset slapped them on page 1A of Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer.
Rhule made a point to find one of the delighted fans in the postgame parking lot, former coach Wayne Hardin who led the Owls to their last 10-win season in 1979. Owls Mania was in full force over the weekend.
"They didn't act like they didn't expect to win," Rhule said.
The Owls had all the needed ingredients to pull off the 27-10 upset: Temple pressured Christian Hackenberg all game and sacked him 10 times. Linebacker Tyler Matakevic had three sacks and was named Monday AAC defensive player of the week. The Owls never wavered in the face of an early 10-0 deficit. Jahad Thomas was a force on the ground with 135 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
"They can't stop the offense we're running now," Temple QB P.J. Walker said. "We've got too many different options out there. It's going to be hard to stop us."
Temple hadn't won in the series since Oct. 18, 1941. Penn State was 38-0-1 since '41 with a 7-7 tie in 1950, the only time the Owls played without a loss.
Sure, the win was a needed boost for a program that failed to make a bowl game last season with a 6-6 record. And no one would confuse this year's Nittany Lions for the powerhouse teams under Joe Paterno that regularly thrashed the Owls. But the first step toward getting thousands of those fans that colored the Linc with their home-team cherry and white colors to return for — say, a late November game against Memphis — is winning a big one in style.
Temple athletic director Patrick Kraft said the days when the program was in sorry shape are over.
"We've got to go to a bowl game," he said. "And we've got to go to another bowl game. And we've got to go to another bowl game. We've got to continue to build success that's expected. That's how you're going to get long-term commitments from your fans. I want us to be focused on that part. You have to win on Saturdays. By my goal is, for the school to get the whole big picture."
That includes an on-campus stadium.
Temple has played in the Linc since the stadium opened in 2003 and has a rental agreement that could stretch to 2019. While the packed house at the Linc was a sign of how fun it could be there, the harsh reality is, most crowds on Temple game day are akin to the fourth quarter of the final NFL preseason game. Building a new stadium that could easily cost $100 million comes with risks — and has been debated within the university for years.
"If it was up to myself," Kraft said, "I'd be out there shoveling right now."
But those plans are for another day. Temple has to prepare for Saturday's American Athletic Conference opener at Cincinnati and winning conference games means much more in the big picture than thumping nonconference rivals.
Even after the PB & J was digested, the euphoria didn't last long at Rhule's house.
"I watched college football and woke up paranoid about Cincinnati," he said.