Temple's Matakevich keeps racking up tackles
One might think it would be news that linebacker Tyler Matakevich would want to talk about. After all, it isn't often that a player racks up a school-record 24 tackles in a game - as a sophomore, no less - and treats it as secondary information.
But that is exactly how Temple's Matakevich treats those numbers after recording 13 solo tackles and assisting on 11 others in the Owls' 26-24 loss to previously winless Idaho on Saturday. The loss dropped the Owls to 0-4.
"When I play, I'm just trying to help us get a win," Matakevich said after practice this week. "Twenty-four is nice and all, but at the end of the day, we lost the game. It would have meant a lot more if we had gotten the W."
The Owls are at a crossroads heading into Saturday's home game with No. 7 Louisville. Back-to-back losses against Fordham and a wretched Idaho team by a combined three points have left the Owls with their worst start since 2007.
Still, last season's Big East defensive rookie of the year is putting together a season that looks as though it will be even better than his first. Matakevich's 60 tackles are second in the nation to San Jose State linebacker Keith Smith's 71.
However, his 47 solo tackles this season are by far the most of any Football Bowl Subdivision player in the land, 14 more than Smith's 33.
When he does talk about his individual accomplishments, Matakevich credits coach Matt Rhule for having him bulk up 15 pounds to 230 before the start of the season. Rhule challenged Matakevich to get his weight up, maintain as much quickness as he could, and begin to make more plays in the opponent's backfield.
Put a check next to all three.
"More than anything, that's what we wanted him to commit to," Rhule said. "He sniffs plays out. But with the added size, he's stronger, can work off blocks, and make more plays. He's making big steps, and it's good to see him becoming more of a playmaker."
Since high school, Matakevich has made a career out of doing the unexpected.
After he suffered a foot injury before his senior season at St. Joseph's High in Trumbull, Conn., Matakevich did not receive a single scholarship offer. He played a season at Milford Academy in New York, showed his skills at linebacker, and accepted a scholarship to Temple.
Just happy to have a chance to play college football, Matakevich believed that making baby steps was the best way to get noticed. He figured he'd try to make plays on special teams and then gradually work his way up the depth chart.
But an injury to starting linebacker Olaniyi Adewole opened the door for Matakevich to start in the fourth game of the 2012 season. Matakevich responded with 15 tackles (12 solo) against South Florida. By the time the season was over, he had notched a freshman-record 101 tackles.
The development of younger players such as Matakevich is crucial for the Owls. On more than one occasion Saturday, the Owls played a mix of 11 freshmen and sophomores on defense.
Sophomore defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis and freshman linebacker Sharif Finch were responsible for the Owls' two sacks, and sophomore Nate D. Smith was all over the field on his way to 11 tackles, tying him with Blaze Caponegro.
Although the Owls are struggling through a season that will grow no easier with games against Louisville and Cincinnati (3-1), their younger players have provided a measure of hope.
"We are all pushing together," Matakevich said. "We just need to get that first win and use it as a building block. We're all working for that."