WASHINGTON, D.C. – It would be easy to brush off Temple’s 30-21 loss to UCLA in the EagleBank Bowl by just being happy with the team being there in the first place. After all, it was the Owls’ first bowl appearance in 30 years.
The problem is that this loss is hard to swallow for a lot of reasons. The team went on a nine-game winning streak, and during the course of that streak, winning was no longer a surprise but something to be expected. A lot of people (myself included) expected a bowl win, and it didn’t happen.
Not only that, but there were little things about the team’s performance in the bowl game that were bothersome.
It starts with, where else, the quarterback position. After redshirt sophomore quarterback Chester Stewart took the starting gig from redshirt junior quarterback Vaughn Charlton nine games into the season, he performed adequately and did nothing to deserve a benching for the bowl game. But, coach Al Golden decided to trot out Charlton against UCLA.
“He had a tremendous 15 practices,” Golden said.
I’m not a football coach, and I’ve never seen the team practice, but I know this: Practices and games are two different animals. Just because a guy works really hard on the practice field does not mean he will produce in games. The bottom line is that Stewart should have started. I could list all the reasons why Charlton shouldn’t have been starting the game, but the season is over, and I’m tired of abusing the guy. Having to deal with throwing a pick-six on national television is more than adequate punishment.
The other thing that was painful was the discrepancy of the team’s performance between the two halves. The first half team was great. Freshman running backs Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown each scored a touchdown and were excellent in controlling the game’s pace. Charlton played his best half of football with 159 passing yards and a touchdown. The defense wasn’t great, but it did enough to give Temple a 21-10 lead.
And then the second half came.
Pierce’s shoulder acted up again, and he made an early exit. If there is anything to be learned about the team this season, it’s that the team’s hopes ride heavily on Pierce. The offense wasn’t the same after he left. Charlton’s Cinderella story struck midnight, and he turned back into a pumpkin with two interceptions, one of which went for a touchdown.
There was also the fateful decision to go for a first down on fourth-and-1 on UCLA’s 10-yard line in the third quarter with Temple still ahead, 21-17.
“It just felt like we could make it,” Golden said. “It didn’t feel like three points was going to be enough. I don’t regret that. I wanted to show the kids confidence.”
In retrospect, Golden is right because three points wouldn’t have helped much after Charlton’s pick-six and UCLA’s subsequent two-point conversion. But at the time, with Pierce out, he should have taken the points and had faith that the defense could hold or that Charlton and Brown could hold down the fort offensively until the clock winded down to zero. Either way, the best thing to do now is look to the future.
This season has been quite the journey and a lot has happened. Temple went to a bowl game, and with that appearance, everyone knows that the football team is a force to be reckoned with. Next season, expectations will be high.
Some suggestions to improve the team include: Fixing the quarterback situation (a team this good has no business changing quarterbacks just before a bowl game); learning to survive without Pierce (teams will look to stop him every time the Owls take the field) and uncovering another offensive weapon, preferably in the passing game (Brown is a great option, but as the game against UCLA shows, he can’t do it alone).
Make no mistake, this 9-4 season was a success. It could have been better, but that’s the beauty of this team. One can now expect them to do better instead of just hoping that they do better.
Brian Dzenis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.