Defense, running game spur success

Improvements from first two losses evident in victory against Buffalo.

Improvements from first two losses evident in victory against Buffalo.

The past two weeks have gone fairly well for the football team. The Owls showed some signs of life in State College against then-No. 5 Penn State despite a 31-6 loss. And after pounding Buffalo, the reigning Mid-American Conference champions, 37-13 on Saturday, it looks like they are moving in the right direction.

It is hard to say what was more surprising, the Owls’ running backs owning the Bulls’ defense or how badly Buffalo played.

While Buffalo may have been 1-2 heading into Lincoln Financial Field, Bulls sophomore quarterback Zach Maynard did throw four touchdown passes against Pittsburgh, a team projected to win the Big East Conference that is no slouch defensively. Temple had Maynard on the ropes most of the game and picked him off four times.

Fun fact on those interceptions: Maynard had each of his four picks go to a different position on defense. He threw one to a cornerback (junior Marquise Liverpool), one to a linebacker (junior Elijah Joseph for a 95-yard pick-six), one to a safety (senior Dominique Harris), and he managed to throw a 2-yard gift to senior defensive lineman Andre Neblett.

The defense and special teams scored as many touchdowns as the offense. Redshirt junior quarterback Vaughn Charlton looked pretty pedestrian out there, completing just 6-of-17 passes for 95 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but that’s OK. He did nothing to seriously jeopardize the game, and if he simply has to act as a game manager for the Owls to win games, so be it.

While not much was going on in the air, there was plenty of action on the ground. Freshman Bernard Pierce and senior Lamar McPherson were an effective one-two punch, rushing for a combined 153 yards and a touchdown.

“I think [Bernard] is a big back. I have been anxious to get a big back and get someone that can do the things he can do,” coach Al Golden said. “He uses his stiff arm well, and he is always moving forward.”

The conservative offense works for the Owls. While the offense did not put up as many points as it did when Charlton was slinging the ball against Villanova, it limited turnovers, which leads to winning games – a key concept for any football team. Limiting those turnovers also makes life easier for the defense, as it does not have to start a series in poor field position.

“That’s two games in a row where we only have one turnover, which really speaks volumes,” Golden said. “If you don’t have any turnovers, you have a shot.”

Basically, it looks like the Owls’ formula will be to hold onto the ball and play quality defense. While it may not look as pretty as throwing for 300 yards, it gets the job done.

The Owls looked good Saturday, but they are not completely out of the woods. They sit one game under .500, and there is still plenty of football to be played and adjustments to be made.

While it is nice to have a touchdown each from the defense and special teams, that sort of performance cannot be expected every game. Take away the two touchdowns, and the final score looks like 23-13. Some of the drives that led to short field goals could have been touchdown drives. The receivers are still dropping some balls, and Charlton is still missing some short passes.

Make no mistake, the Owls had a great start to the MAC season, but Golden has already put things into proper perspective.

“It is just one win, and it is a good win, but it is only one win, and it only counts as one,” he said.

Brian Dzenis can be reached at

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