Notthat long ago Temple, now nationally ranked for the first time since January, 1980,would’ve found a way to lose this one, rather than coming from behind in thefourth quarterSaturday night to beatwinless Central Florida, 30-16.
And it wasn’t as if they didn’t try, gift-wrapping four turnovers — including a pick-six—into 10 points to a UCF team that managed just 134 net yards.
But somehow Temple managed to overcome all that to run its record to 6-0 for thefirst time since Wayne Hardin’s Owls did it in 1974.Exactly where that mentality changed forMatt Rhule’sOwls, no one’s quitesure.
Rhule, who kept insisting theywere making strides even while going 2-10 in 2013,points to a 41-21 seasonfinale win at Memphis. Senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who moved past 400career tackles in the first quarter, remembers the last time UCF was here, whenstar quarterback Blake Bortles rallied the Bulls to a 39-36 victory.
Temple now expects to win, having already pulled off a week three miracle at UMass and built from there.
“I wasn’t concerned at all,” insisted Jahad Thomas, who rumbled for 123 of his careerhigh 199 yards along with two pivotal touchdowns in the fourth to erase a 16-14deficit. “We have a mentality of ‘What’s next?,’ so no one was worried about usbeing down.
“Ithink that mentality has always been here, but we weren’t able to finishcertain games we wanted to last year or the previous year. I think the maturitycoming from the group of seniors and great leaders we have coming into thisyear changed the program.”
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Thomas has now amassed 756 yards on 145 carries and10 scores for the season, along with touchdowns receiving and on a kickoffreturn.
Not bad for a guy whowas playing defense until last season and didn’t emerge as the focal point ofthe offense until this year.
“We knew inthe spring that he was taking another step,” said Rhule, after Thomas gained nearlyas many yards coming out of the backfield as a receiver last year (364) than onthe ground (80 carries for 384 yards but no touchdowns). “I don’t think werealized how physical he would run the ball.We thought he was moreof a scatback guy who would catch screen passes. He’s surprising everyone.”
Not his teammates.
“I just put the ball in his hands and he hasthe ability to make people miss.” said quarterback P.J.Walker, who shook off that killerinterception turning a 14-3 game on the verge of becoming a rout into a tight game to finish 15-for-27 for 149 yards and a touchdown, while being on thereceiving end of a two-point conversion pass from John Christopher. “Today washis day.He just goes out thereand does his thing.”
As a kid,Thomas says headmired Reggie Bush and for a while used to try model his game after him.
“That was the style I wanted to be as arunner,” admitted Thomas, who won’t have much time to rest his body with Templetraveling to East Carolina Thursday. “I loved seeing how shifty he was, how hemade quick decisions and could make people miss.That was somebody Ireally looked up to and wanted to copy.But as you get older you know you have to pick your spots. You can’t make exotic cuts all the time.”
Jahad Thomas and the Temple Owls havetaken command in the AAC East and canvirtually lock up the division win a win at 4-3 East Carolina.
Then it’s the FightingIrish of Notre Dame on Halloween at the Linc, a game that’s already soldout.But having been down for so longthe last thing these Owls will do is start looking ahead.
“UMass was definitely awakeup call,’’ said Thomas, whose club has outscored the opposition 116-29since pulling out a 25-23 last second win in Amherst“We know that everyone’s going to come andgive us their best, because of the success that we’ve had.
“We have a target onour back. Being in those situations and just knowing we will and can pullthrough helps us as we continue our season.”
A season where winningfor nationally ranked Temple has finally become the expectation.