The score. The opponent. The site. The field conditions. The fans in the stands.
None of that matters to Temple head coach Matt Rhule.
Just focus on the moment at hand, do your job and everything else should take care of itself.
That mentality worked for a school record-tying 10 wins last season, earning them a spot in the American Athletic Conference championship game and a trip to the Boca Raton Bowl. But now that’s in the past as the new season beckons, beginning tomorrow night at the Linc when the Owls take on Army — the same team they beat in 2013 for Rhule’s first win.
There have been plenty to follow since.
“A great team plays to its own standards,” said Rhule, whose club was hit hard by graduation, particularly on the defensive end, losing All-American Tyler Matakevich, Matt Ioannidis and Nate D. Smith. “You never want to come in second place to yourself. I tell my players ‘If your preparation is any different when your expectations change then you weren’t preparing the right way to begin with.’ What I’m trying to teach these kids is the situation, the score, the opponent, the heat, the conditions, none of that matters or should affect how you play. You’re just preparing for this game.”
In this case that’s an Army team coming off a 2-10 season — with five of those losses being five points or less. In that way, Rhule says, the Black Knights remind him of his first Temple team, which coincidentally also went 2-10.
That’s when things began to change.
“I think after that 2-10 season, we realized we don’t want to feel that way anymore,” recalled star senior running back Jahad Thomas, who rushed for 1,262 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. “We knew we had guys who were capable of so many things. We just needed to put it all together. But our approach is different every year. It’s hard to forget about what we did last year, because there’s a lot of expectations. But we as a team are not looking at the past. The past was last year. We can’t control it. We’re just trying to correct our mistakes.”
There will be mistakes, as these Owls try to figure out what kind of team they’ll be. While many are expecting them to again contend for the AAC title, they’re not worrying about that. In fact, their more concerned about snapping a two-game losing streak at the hands of Houston and Toledo at the end of last season.
“We don’t want to feel the same way we did at the end of last year,” said Thomas, who added 216 receiving yards and a touchdown. “We had a pretty good season, but we right now we’re on a two-game losing streak. For the seniors this might be our last chance to play football. We want to cherish every moment and go out as winners; as guys who came in and successfully changed the program and did a lot of good things.”
It starts Friday facing an Army team that runs the triple option, not the easiest way to start your season.
“They like to run the ball,” said linebacker Stephaun Marshall, who’s moving from the strong side position to Matakevitch’s weak side spot, “but we just have to play our brand.
“Just one snap at a time. One practice at a time. Our mindset has completely changed since I got here. We’ve matured as a team and I’m proud of it.”
The results will be on display Friday night. Regardless of what happens, though, the Owls know this. Come next week versus Stony Brook, it starts all over again.
After all, why change a system and a mentality that’s been working?