Temple weathers the storm, then rolls over Vanderbilt

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Temple Owls receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick (5) celebrates with teammates after scoring during the first half against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vanderbilt Stadium. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today)

AS OPENING statements go, it certainly was a loud one.

If Temple's football team - which was coming off a 2-10 season - had won, 2-0, at Vanderbilt on Thursday night, it would have been a keeper. But the two-touchdown underdog Owls rolled, 37-7.

The game in Nashville, Tenn., was supposed to start at 9:15 p.m. Philly time, but was delayed 1 hour, 37 minutes because of lightning and it didn't end until 2:14 a.m. here.

Some debut for the SEC Network.

For whatever reason, the NFL preseason game between the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings a few miles away wasn't interrupted.

The Owls had three interceptions and three field goals (by two kickers), both of which equaled their totals from 2013. Their seven takeaways were only six fewer than they managed all of last season. All but 10 of their points came off turnovers, including Averee Robinson's 55-yard touchdown on a fumble return just before the half that made it 21-7.

Vandy's lone score came early in the second quarter, when defensive back Oren Burks fell on a fumble in the end zone by Temple punter Alex Starzyk to tie things.

"I'm happy for the kids, and I mean that wholeheartedly," said second-year coach Matt Rhule, who finally opened the front door of his house at 7 Friday morning. "They put all the work in. As a staff, we always felt like we knew what we were doing, but they have to have faith in what we're asking, even when it seems like we're crazy. Now at least they have some evidence that, OK, maybe it's warranted. Because we're only going to ask more of them."

The Owls - 6-17 since winning the New Mexico Bowl in the 2011 season, their first bowl win in 32 years - had not beaten an SEC team since 1938, at Florida.

This was the first game for Commodores coach Derek Mason, the former Stanford defensive coordinator, who used three quarterbacks.

Temple's P.J. Walker went 23-for-34 for 207 yards (to eight receivers), two TDs and no picks.

Vandy, which was picked to finished sixth in the SEC East, obviously isn't Alabama. Still, it did win nine times each of the past two seasons for then-coach James Franklin, now at Penn State.

Next Saturday, the Owls host Navy, which also had nine victories in 2013 and opens today against Ohio State.

"To sit there for 3 hours waiting in the locker room, which was about as small as my office, and go out and play like shows who we are," Rhule said. "We brought all the food from the hotel, just in case. Then we were running out to the store to get more stuff. It's like anything else. How do you take it? My son was in there dancing with the linemen, rap music, this little 9-year-old. At one point, I got up and told them, 'The game's canceled, we're going back home.' They were, like, 'We practice all spring at 5 in the morning. This ain't going to bother us.'

"All the freshmen were sitting there, and they were scared to death already. Then they saw our older guys and said, 'If they're cool with it, so am I.' "

Rhule took 71 players with him. Only two didn't get in, both of whom probably are redshirting anyway.

"You know me, I worry about everything," he said. "After what happened last year , I was trying to figure out when I could put them in. Finally, I just went screw it. They deserved to get into a college football game . . .

"Winning isn't easy. It's a simple process. You prepare like crazy and when the game comes, you cut loose. That all sounds good. But when you're 18, 19, it's hard. I tried to tell them that they did this big thing because they prepared. If they want to do it again, they have to do the exact same thing. Don't get me wrong, they showed who they are. But it's one game. We can't let up."

Still, it must have made for a fun plane ride.

"Everyone was sleeping," Rhule said. "We were walking around with hoagies. They were, like, 'No, I'm good.' It was an exhausting experience."

As well as a highly satisfying one.