Rhule aims for more mature Temple in 2nd season


Rhule aims for more mature Temple in 2nd season

It’s the football version of the chicken or the egg.

Do teams change their mentality and then start winning games or does the attitude adjustment come from first getting a taste of winning?

For the 2014 Temple Owls, it’s all about initially changing their frame of mind heading into the new season.

“Obviously, it’s like anything else, faith there’s no belief without evidence. If you start winning, then you feel like you know how to win and it’s easier that way,” Temple second-year head coach Matt Rhule said Thursday inside the program’s revamped locker room during media day. “A lot of programs, they’ve won forever. When you walk in there, kids expect to win.

“I think for our kids, the beauty and what’s been fun about this year, has been that they’ve had to do it the other way. They’ve had to believe they can win when they didn’t win. They’ve had to believe they can win when those last-second touchdowns came in to rip their hearts out. For us, we’ve just attacked the mindset.”

Working on the psyche seems like a good place to start for a team that finished with a 2-10 record a season ago, especially when you consider five of those losses were decided by a touchdown or less.

“I think last year we were pretty much immature. We kind of didn’t value the gift of the game,” senior running back Ken Harper said. “Our mindset, we had a lot of freshmen playing and a lot of them didn’t know how hard it is to win an actual college football game.

“The whole offseason coach has been pushing us to go as hard as we can and play at a championship level. Over the summer we’ve been trying to get that mindset that you’ve got to take every chance you can get. You’ve got to go as hard as you can and do as much as you can to make it count.”

Quarterback P.J. Walker made his opportunity count last season, wrestling the starting job away after coming into the year third on the depth chart.

While Walker may have initially received playing time because of the ineptitude of others, he made sure his own play kept him in the driver’s seat. Walker threw for 2,084 yards and 20 touchdowns in nine games (seven starts) as a freshman to solidify his spot under center.

Now the unquestioned starter, Walker is focused on leading a Temple offense that averaged 24.9 points last season and turning those impressive numbers into wins.

“I definitely stepped up to the plate, not just by being a vocal leader but just leading by example,” Walker said. “Coach Rhule pushed me throughout the whole offseason, throughout the summer to be a leader. I just took what he said as advice and I just ran with it.”

Walker’s progression for the Owls’ weapon-filled offense is key. However, the real test of TU’s success in 2014 will be the ability to bounce back on defense and special teams.

The Owls allowed 29.8 points last season and ranked 90th in total defense. They were particularly brutal in the secondary, rating 120th against the pass and recording just three interceptions.

“It’s been my job this whole offseason, as soon as the last game got over, to get this defense on the right path,” junior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who led the nation with 99 solo tackles a year ago and enters 2014 on a host of national watch lists, said. “Me and a few guys really sat down and went right back to the drawing board and really tried to figure out what we did wrong last year. Completely change the mentality of no more pointing fingers. If the defense doesn’t let anyone score, they can’t win.”

The kicking game was even worse, with three different players combining to go just 3 for 9 on field goal attempts. The Owls also missed five PATs during the campaign.

“Going through what we went through last year, I’ve had so many people on radio shows and national radio shows say to me they’ve never seen a team that only had three interceptions that they picked off and only made three field goals,” Rhule said.

The young Owls, who were picked to finish eighth in the 11-team American Athletic Conference, are confident they can show improvements in those two areas and get back into the bowl picture.

It all starts with attitude.

“Us going out there each day, it’s not going to happen again. We had a saying on the back of our shirts every time we worked out saying, ‘Never again,’” Walker said. “That was our mentality every day. Never again will we have a 2-10 season.”

No. 24 Penn State looking to turn around road skid against Purdue

No. 24 Penn State looking to turn around road skid against Purdue

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.  -- National rankings and bowl games didn't matter a whole lot to Brandon Bell when the linebacker committed to Penn State, a program then under unprecedented NCAA sanctions.

Four years later, the usually stoic linebacker found himself considering his team's sudden ascension Tuesday after its biggest win in front of more than 107,000 fans and a national audience.

"It's great, definitely," Bell said. "It's definitely not over though."

With five games left, No. 24 Penn State (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) can make a run at a conference championship but faces plenty of hurdles.

Before considering they'd need No. 2 Michigan and No. 6 Ohio State to lose some games, the Nittany Lions first need to find their game away from the friendly raucous of Beaver Stadium. They've lost seven straight true road games and eight of 10 since 2014 but can turn that around against Purdue (3-4, 1-3) with a win at Ross-Ade Stadium.

A player who enjoys being smack-talked and says he thrives on hostile energy, Bell has always liked the challenge of playing on the road. Bell's played in all but two of those road games and said the trick is to maintain your energy level throughout the game, something that's easier to do with an atmosphere like the one Penn State last played in.

With Ross-Ade Stadium less than half the size of their facility, Penn State coach James Franklin said players will have to "bring their own juice."

Penn State players know they'll need it. Some had already taken notice of Purdue before taking the field following a massive pyrotechnics display on Saturday night. As he waited to head over to the stadium, tight end Mike Gesicki watched parts of Purdue's 27-14 loss to No. 8 Nebraska.

"I think that people are kind of disrespecting Purdue," Gesicki said. "They gave Nebraska a very tough time in the first half and Nebraska is obviously one of the toughest teams in the country."

And one that plays an offensive style Penn State hasn't faced yet.

Purdue quarterback David Blough has passed for more than 767 yards with seven touchdowns in his last two games. He completed nearly 60 percent of his throws against Nebraska working Purdue's short and intermediate passing game in its first game since Darrell Hazell was fired.

"These type of teams, they kind of pass it to open up the run," Bell said. "At the same time, definitely got to be more read-oriented on the wide receivers and tight ends. The team's going to try to make you look this way and then throw it back this way. Definitely got to be able to keep your head on a swivel."

Interim coach Gerad Parker will coach his second game after changing up the Boilermakers' approach in the wake of Hazell's Oct. 16 dismissal.

"Change has happened, so we changed a lot of things in our routine," Parker said. "You need to demand out of yourself that you believe and think a different way, that the mind's a powerful thing and then take off and move faster out on that practice field so you'll move faster during the game."

Despite its road woes, Penn State's practice plan won't change, although Franklin altered his schedule due to a funeral on Tuesday. He did opt for one adjustment earlier in the week, however. On Sunday, Franklin sat in on the offensive and defensive meetings to make sure the postgame excitement from the Ohio State win had died down.

"We don't need to change our approach on the back end, and you know, it's business as usual for us," Franklin said. "It was a great game. It was a great environment and it was great to see our players go out and play well and it was great to see the fans enjoy it so much, and our alumni and Lettermen and all those things. But again, it's on to the next game."


Ex-Penn State TE Brent Wilkerson gets probation for indecent assault

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Ex-Penn State TE Brent Wilkerson gets probation for indecent assault

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — A former Penn State football player will serve five years' probation and register as a sex offender after pleading guilty to indecent assault.

Twenty-two-year-old Brent Wilkerson was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty in connection with a February outing to several bars with a young woman and others.

Police say Wilkerson was drunk but the woman was sober when he insisted on making sure she got home safe.

The woman tells police Wilkerson pushed her upstairs to her bedroom where he fell asleep. The woman says she went to bed later and woke up to find Wilkerson kissing and fondling her and fondling himself. He later apologized in a text message.

Wilkerson was kicked off the team in March. Court records say he lives in Clinton, Maryland.