Temple trying to refocus after losses

Temple running back Montel Harris gets past Pittsburgh defensive back Jason Hendricks in the third quarter Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh.

PHILADELPHIA - Picked to finish last in the Big East, Temple would need a complete collapse to hit the cellar.

Plus, winless Connecticut and South Florida aren't poised to go on torrid winning streaks.

Avoiding last place would be a major achievement for the Owls in their return to the Big East after seven years in exile. After all, they spent so much time in the basement in their first go-around in the conference, the Owls could have built their own man cave complete with foosball table.

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Under coach Steve Addazio, these Owls (3-4, 2-2) are a different breed than their predecessors, a plucky team trying to win Big East games with Mid-American Conference talent. The Owls were swept into the Big East this season without much notice or chance for Addazio to truly recruit to the conference.

The Owls responded with their first two-game conference winning streak and beat a respected FCS team in city rival Villanova.

They followed the winning streak with a 10-0 halftime lead over then-No. 19 Rutgers, a win that, had they held on, would have propelled them into bowl contention, proved they were for real, and given them a win over a ranked team for the first time since 1998.

But Rutgers stormed back to win 35-10 and Pittsburgh raced the following week to a 31-7 halftime lead en route to a 47-17 victory.

Now, the season gets harder for the Owls. They play Saturday at No. 12 Louisville (8-0, 3-0) against a Cardinals team playing for a Big East Conference title and a BCS bowl bid.

Temple's first-half goodwill is about to go goodbye unless the 15-point underdog can pull off one of the unlikeliest upsets of the season.

"It's a great opportunity and I'm really glad we're on the road playing them right now," Addazio said. "It gives you a chance to really respond and try and make a statement. I think that's a great challenge and this is without question a tremendous challenge for us."

That's one way to fire-up the Owls. The other motivating factor is this: Temple needs three wins in its final four games to become bowl eligible. Up ahead, a game vs. Cincinnati, at Army and the home finale against Syracuse. The Owls will play only 11 games this season.

Temple's lack of depth, two early off weeks, and the two-game losing streak present Addazio with a heady challenge over the final month.

"We just have to get back to the practice field and work things out," defensive tackle Shahid Paulhill said. "We need to watch the tape and see what happened, and then we can get on the field and correct our mistakes. That's the only thing we can do right now. We can't really look past anything except the next day of practice."

Temple's practice schedule was thrown into a bit of disarray this week after Superstorm Sandy slammed the Northeast. Temple was shut down Monday and Tuesday and Addazio said the Owls' preparation was in a "flat scramble" this week. Not exactly what the Owls needed heading into Louisville.

"We've got to enjoy the game and play like hell," Addazio said.

The Pitt loss was truly the first time all season Addazio was unhappy with Temple's performance from opening kickoff to the final tick of the clock. The Owls stuffed Pitt on the game's opening possession, but Temple gave it right back when the ensuing punt glanced off Anthony Robey and Pitt's Eric Williams fell on it at the Temple 39. The Owls steadied themselves in the second half, though they never got closer than 17.

"Until last Saturday, I would have told you we were ahead of schedule," Addazio said. "From last Saturday, we're not behind schedule. We've got two conference wins right now and we're fighting to get another one. Given the whole scenario, I'm proud of what our team's done."

He'd be beaming if the Owls can somehow reach six wins and bowl eligibility. The goal is right in front of them for a team well ahead of what pundits predicted. There are loftier goals for the Owls, though, in the future, like becoming the conference championship contender they'll find at Louisville.

"Where do we go from here? That's the hard question," he said.

It's up to Addazio to find the answer.

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