NASHVILLE - A big rig with Jersey plates sat outside Vanderbilt Stadium, out on Natchez Trace. When college football teams go on the road, they take their program with them. Logistics are fine-tuned, contingencies planned for. When the rains came Thursday evening, Temple was ready.
"We have a lightning plan that's in place. We bring all the food from the hotel in case we ever hit lightning," Temple football coach Matt Rhule was saying later, early Friday morning.
There was no forecast, however, for what happened here. The weather guys missed a storm that battered and re-battered the west end of Nashville, spreading out its lightning bolts, delaying the Temple-Vanderbilt kickoff by increments, for 92 minutes. At one point, fans were let in and then told to go back to their cars.
The oddsmakers missed it, too. A two-touchdown underdog, Temple dominated, demoralized and embarrassed the Southeastern Conference team formerly coached by Penn State's James Franklin. When the Owls finished up at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, the scoreboard read, 37-7, and Temple walk-ons were on the field. If you didn't play in this one, the plan is to redshirt you.
Vanderbilt's highlight came in the first half, courtesy of the Owls. A Temple high snap on a punt wasn't handled and the home team recovered in the end zone. Overall, Vandy tried three quarterbacks, then changed again, back to number two. Temple's defensive line got immediate pressure against an offensive line with all its starters back from a 9-4 2013 season.
"Right from the first snap," Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich was saying about the line in front of him, "they were getting pressure right to him . . ."
" . . . And they really had no answer for it."
Rhule said, "That was the crux of the game. Could our defensive line hang with their offensive line? And vice versa. . . . I was - I hate to say surprised - but pleasantly surprised that we were able to hang in there so well in the D line."
A major reason Temple finished 2-10 last season, losing so many close ones, was the lack of turnovers, particularly interceptions. They had three for all last season, and three in Thursday night's second half.
"Coach Snow always tells us to learn how the game goes," said Owls junior corner Tavon Young, who had the first two interceptions, referring to defensive coordinator Phil Snow. "Basically, when they come out in formations, we always try to remember. They ran the same play in the first quarter and the second quarter and the third quarter and the fourth. So I just kind of picked up on it, and everybody else did."
"We consciously moved guys to different positions, to try to get more speed on the field," Rhule said of his defense. "I thought we looked fast."
Temple didn't get some distance until the very end of the first half. Fourth-down passing conversions led to its first two touchdowns, and a sack and a fumble and a 55-yard rumble by a nose tackle provided the last score just 39 seconds before halftime.
In a game that requires adrenaline release, handling the crazy pregame shouldn't go unappreciated.
"We had to create our own energy in the locker room," Young said. "We were getting hyped - come up to the door. They would say 30 more minutes."
"We just stayed relaxed in there," Matakevich said. "The coaches were really on top of it, making sure everybody stayed hydrated. You saw. It was hot. It was humid."
"It was so long that we went to the store and bought granola bars and whatever else just to make sure the guys could get enough calories in their body," Rhule said.
"It was laughs and giggles, it was being ourself," said quarterback P.J. Walker, who completed 23 of 34 passes for 207 yards and two scores. "You just know to be ready."
The first game of Vanderbilt's Derek Mason era was a reminder that programs start over with new coaches, even with 15 starters back. Yes, Temple beat an SEC team for the first time since 1938. Temple also made Vandy, coming off three straight bowl appearances, look like the old Vandy, the laughingstock Vandy, the SEC 'Doremats.
The other team, now in Year 2 under Rhule, was overheard singing "High Hopes" in the visiting locker room.
"Oh my God, this is tremendous," Matakevich said after he left that room. "I mean, after what happened last year, to start a season like this. It's a phenomenal feeling. We knew what this team could really do last year and we were just coming up short. We just really wanted to set the tone right now. It's a great start."
"It's a great first win," said Rhule, whose team flew back right afterward. "It's obviously better than what was going on last year. So I'm happy about that. But as I just told them, everyone tells you you're bad, you can't believe 'em. Now, everyone's going to tell you you're good. You can't believe 'em."
Coach-speak, and perfectly valid. Navy comes to the Linc Saturday, with another big question from last year's Temple season yet to be answered.
"We've got to prove we can win it at the end," Rhule said. "That still lies ahead of us."
Even at halftime, up 21-7, Rhule said he told his team, "Let's expect this game - let's want this game - to come down to the last play."
This one did not follow that script. It did not follow any script.
BY THE NUMBERS
Turnovers forced by Temple in Thursday's win. The Owls forced 13 in all 12 games combined last year.
Temple interceptions vs. Vanderbilt, matching the Owls' total from last season.
Straight wins by Temple, which won, 41-21, at Memphis to close out last year's 2-10 campaign.
Straight games the Owls have scored at least 20 points - starting with P.J. Walker's first start.
The P.J. Walker Effect
Since P.J. Walker took over as Temple's starting quarterback in the sixth game of last season, the Owls' scoring output has soared. Here are some comparisons to his eight games under center, compared with the first five games last season:
Before Walker, Connor Reilly had a 2-2 TD-INT ratio in five starts.
Walker's ratio was 22-8.
Before Walker, Temple was outscored by an average of 27.2-15.8 (11.4 margin).
With Walker, that margin flips in Temple's favor to 3.5 (32.1 to 28.6)
Before Walker, Temple did not reach 30 points in five games, including a home game against FCS foe Fordham.
With Walker, Temple has surpassed 30 points five times in eight games.
Before Walker, the Owls were 0-5.
With Walker, the Owls are 3-5.