Temple finds itself in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game. Again. They find themselves playing on the road. Again. They also have the task to stop a formidable offense. Again. As the Owls get set to take on the AAC West Division Champion Navy Midshipmen, they are looking to win not just their first AAC title, but their first football conference title since winning the Middle Atlantic Conference in 1967. To do that, they will have to rely on their seniors this week to help prepare them for their upcoming battle.
The senior class has been through a lot. They were Head Coach Matt Rhule’s first recruiting class. This class endured a two-win freshman campaign in 2013. They finished 6-6 in 2014 only to find themselves not participating in bowl season. These seniors were a part of a team that finished with 10 wins. However, they lost the conference championship game and the Boca Raton Bowl against Toledo. Each year, this class experienced setbacks, but each year this class improved.
“I think we gained the experience of knowing what it’s like to be in that big game and what it takes to win.” Redshirt senior cornerback Nate Hairston said after Saturday’s win against East Carolina.
He is right. The team will have championship game experience, an intangible that can come in handy, especially if this game will be as close as it appears it will be. In last year’s conference title game, the Owls were behind early and were never able to recover from it. Senior quarterback Phillip Walker threw an early interception in that game, and he is looking to avoid doing the same against the Midshipmen.
“Just to not make the same mistakes we made last year, that’s what I will relay to the team,” Walker said. “We just have to go there and play and jump on them. We need to do what we’ve been doing as a team and as an offense.”
Speaking of experience, the Owls will have to face Navy’s triple-option offense. The Owls faced a version of this offense against Army earlier this season and had some trouble stopping it, especially when it came to the fullback dive. It will be crucial for the senior defensive leaders like defensive linemen Hassan Reddick to make sure they are ready to slow down an offense that put up 75 points against SMU.
“It is tough playing that kind of team,” Reddick said. “The thing is we have to make sure we prepare. We have to know them like we know ourselves and make sure everyone is doing the right thing and playing as hard as they can.”
Temple and Navy should be a very entertaining game. This time, the Owls hope that history does not repeat itself. Instead of just winning the division, they hope to have an even bigger celebration on the road in Annapolis. Reddick hopes so.
“Winning a conference championship, now that will feel different, to win for us, the university and the fans.”