Temple football: Try, try again

Posted: November 21, 2013

HOW MANY times can one team keep getting back up off the mat?

If you're Temple, first it was that Hail Mary disaster against FCS Fordham in week two.

Then it was the loss at Rutgers on a 33-yard pass on fourth-and-10 with 35 seconds to go.

Now, in the very next game, it's a near-miss against 15th-ranked Central Florida that came down to a last-play field goal. This time, the Owls had taken a seven-point lead with 2 minutes left.

They've lost four times by a total of nine points. One was by two at Idaho, which hasn't won another game. So with a few bounces, they could still be thinking they are bowl eligible. Instead, they're 1-9 (0-6 in the American Athletic Conference) heading into Saturday night's game in South Philly with Connecticut, one of five winless FBS teams.

"It's been a rough season, in a lot of ways," said safety Abdul Smith, who, like the rest of the seniors, will be playing for the last time at the Linc. "We're still in the process of learning how to finish. It's still a very young team. But our record should be [much better]. If we hadn't given up 17 points in the final [7] minutes we could have beat the No. 15 team.

"It's tough. The coaches are trying to do everything they can to make a difference. But at the end of the day, it's on us, the players. There's points in a game when the offense has to make a play and they don't make it. And points where the defense has to get a stop and we just don't. We can't put the final dagger in. There are times when it looks like it's over, but it's not."

Connecticut hasn't scored more than 21 this year. The Owls haven't had fewer than 20 since true freshman P.J. Walker became the starting quarterback five games ago. UConn did almost beat Michigan in September. Then coach Paul Pasqualoni got fired after the next game, a 41-12 loss at Buffalo. The Huskies haven't lost by fewer than 17 in their last four.

Next week, the Owls close at 3-6 Memphis, which has won its last two.

"It absolutely hurts," said senior tight end Chris Coyer, a former starting QB, who missed the UCF game with an ankle injury. "There's a lot of games that we felt we could have and should have won, but, of course, that's in the past. But this team isn't going to give up.

"We did this to ourselves. There's no denying that. It's not like we got unlucky or something. We didn't play well enough to win, when it came down to crunch time."

There isn't much left to salvage. But it's still something. For the guys who aren't coming back, and the ones that are. It wasn't that long ago that the Owls were winning 26 times in 3 years. They were a part of that, too.

"We've had some great times here," Coyer said. "Unfortunately, it's been a rough year. We've really had to battle. I think that builds the character of a team. It would mean a lot to go out with a couple of wins. Eventually, this team's going to turn the corner. There's a lot of potential for it."

That's the best thing first-year coach Matt Rhule can take from all this.

"We need to bounce back from another disappointment," he said. "We've gotten a lot better. Now it's time to find a way to win. What different things are you going to do to not lose? That has to come from the players. It's not how close you are. You have to take that last step.

"I think there's some momentum with the way we're playing. Now, we need something tangible to show for all that hard work. You have to play every play with 11 guys. We've played a couple with nine, where guys did their own thing. You can't really win that way, not the way we want to win. We have to get that out of our system.

"I feel great about a lot of these young kids. There's so many out there, learning from these moments. In the long run, I think they're going to be really good."

In the short run, those growing pains have been, well, excruciating. The only hope is that the lessons indeed make a difference at some point. Or else why bother?

"If we wanted it hard enough, we would have done it," Smith said. "We've got to live with it. Now we've just got to get one."