Critiquing Stewart’s progress

WEST POINT, N.Y. – Sophomore running back Matt Brown won this game for Temple. In the absence of fellow sophomore back Bernard Pierce – who did not travel to West Point, N.Y., as he was recovering from an ankle injury – Brown stepped up in a huge way and willed the team to a 42-35 win over the Black Knights.

“Matt’s proven himself in big games and big environments, he may be our fiercest competitor and he made a lot of guys miss. We gave him good surfaces to run on,” coach Al Golden said. “I thought [offensive coordinator] Matt Rhule and the offensive staff called a tremendous game in really tough circumstances. I can’t say enough about the offensive line and the tight ends blocking.”

It’s a good thing Brown had a career day, because that win wasn’t going to come from anyone else on offense.

Here’s my way to describe redshirt-junior Chester Stewart as a quarterback: deceptively bad. The seeds were planted sometime during the Penn State game. Looking at the box score against Army, his numbers don’t seem too terrible, he went seven-for-16 with 127 passing yards and a touchdown, and he fumbled once but didn’t lose it. On a few of those nine misses, at least three or four of those were overthrown to an open receiver. He’s done that in other games too, and it’s frustrating because there are times where he’ll miss a receiver on a deep route, which would have been huge.

Now let’s look at what he’s done over his first five games: He’s gone 58-for-105 for 683 yards with three passing touchdowns and three interceptions.

Here’s what his predecessor, current redshirt-senior tight end Vaughn Charlton, did through his first five games: 66-for-126 for 926 passing yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions.  In essence, Stewart isn’t much of an improvement over Charlton.

So why did I hate on Charlton when he was starting?  It came down to two things: his bad first impression when he threw three interceptions in the 27-24 loss to Villanova in last year’s season opener and his putrid performance against Navy, where he went five-for-17 for 37 yards with two interceptions. Golden had a gem of a quote afterwards.

“[Charlton]’s struggling, but he’s winning. The Ravens won a Super Bowl with [Trent] Dilfer [at quarterback],” Golden said.
But I still haven’t answered why Chester Stewart is deceptively bad. It’s not the overthrown receivers, and it’s not the lack of overall production, so what can it be?

The fumbles.

The team has now won four games with him under center, but the number of fumbles he’s had are fairly frightening. In the course of five games, Stewart has fumbled the ball seven times; four of them were recovered by opponents.

Combine this with his interceptions, and he’s turned the ball over seven times through five games. Charlton committed a total of 11 turnovers, all interceptions, through nine games as the starting quarterback. For those who care, Charlton fumbled three times, but none were lost.

If Stewart remains the starter, he’ll likely surpass 11 total turnovers at the pace he’s going, which could eventually cost the Owls a game. With this in mind, it might be time to give redshirt-freshman Chris Coyer or redshirt-junior Mike Gerardi a look under center. Quarterback play could not get much worse.

It may seem picky because the team is 4-1. While that is a good record to have, the team is too dependent on the running game and the defense. When comparing Temple to a team that is really dependent on the run, such as Army, the passing game looks even weaker.

The combination of Stewart and junior wide receiver Joe Jones has given the Owls a total of four passing touchdowns in a season. Army sophomore quarterback Trent Steelman has thrown three passing touchdowns in five games, which is the same output as Stewart, and he’s done that despite only attempting 47 passes.

There are only so many ways to say the passing game is nowhere near where it needs to be. It’s the only thing dragging the team down and preventing the team from reaching its full potential.

Thankfully, the Owls have finished what is arguably the toughest part of their schedule. It’s all Mid-American Conference opponents from here, where the Owls went 7-1 last season. No team looks overly threatening, and this should provide adequate opportunity for the Owls to find out whether they should stick with Stewart or experiment with someone else.
Otherwise, the plan will be to simply wait for either Pierce or Brown to open things up for the rest of the offense.

Brian Dzenis can be reached at brian.dzenis@temple.edu.

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