Flashing back to the bowl game

The Penn State game showed similarities to the EagleBank Bowl.

The Penn State game showed similarities to the EagleBank Bowl.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – It would have been really nice to get that win.

It would have been nice to shut up those fans who feel the need to announce who they are before games – as if the big white letters in each end zone were not a big enough indication that I did, in fact, visit Penn State University.

It would have been nice to get a win against Penn State for the first time since 1941, when Nittany Lions’ coach Joe Paterno was 15 years old.
brian dzenis
And for a while, it looked like Temple would finally get that win. But the team faded away in the second half, and No. 23 Penn State came back to win, 22-13.

While Temple was slowly losing its lead, I found myself having flashbacks to the EagleBank Bowl game from December 2009, and this was for good reason: Both that game and the Penn State game played out in nearly the exact same fashion.

In both games, the Owls were up against a Bowl Championship Series team in a game they were not favored to win, went into halftime with the lead and then went on to not score for the rest of the game to eventually losing both matchups.

Both times, the deathblow for the Owls’ offense came after a Bernard Pierce injury. Against UCLA, the Owls were able to gain 224 total yards on offense with Pierce in the lineup, but after he left the game early in the second quarter with a shoulder injury, the team only managed 58 yards without him.

One of the biggest victims of Pierce’s absence was the team’s passing game. Then-redshirt-junior quarterback Vaughn Charlton was having one of his better games going 12-for-16 with 153 passing yards and a touchdown in the first half, but after halftime, the Bruins’ defense began to go aggressively after the quarterback, and Charlton went 1-for-7 with 6 yards and two interceptions. One of those picks was even taken back for a touchdown. With that kind of offense, it’s no surprise the Owls lost the game, 30-21.

Fast forward to Saturday’s game at Penn State, where the Owls did not exactly have the same kind of offensive first half they had against UCLA, but they had the lead-off of two touchdowns from Pierce, and the defense was playing well enough to hold on to a 13-9 lead going into halftime. Since I talked about quarterback play in the bowl game, I’ll do so again here.

Redshirt-junior quarterback Chester Stewart wasn’t setting the world on fire with just 36 passing yards and an interception, but at the time, I was willing to let the bad QB play slide if the end result was a win over Penn State.

With about seven minutes left in the third quarter, Pierce went down with an ankle injury and did not return to the game. The offense wasn’t doing well to begin with, but it became substantially worse without Pierce. The team managed a total of 61 rushing yards, and Stewart went 2-for-10 for 10 yards with two more interceptions in an offense sans Pierce. No Temple drive lasted more than five plays in the second half, and the Nittany Lions were able to grind away at the defense and eventually came away with the win.

There’s one thing to be learned from these two games: If Pierce goes down, the offense is in serious trouble. Yes, I’ve known that for more than a year, but still, the Penn State game occurred about nine months after the UCLA game.And one would think during that stretch of time, the team could find a more consistent offensive weapon to use in the event that Pierce goes down. If there is anything to be taken away from the Penn State game, it’s that the offense could stand to be more balanced.

It’s hard to say what exactly is holding the team back from becoming more balanced. It’s easy to blame Chester Stewart because he’s the quarterback, but one has to look at what he’s asked to do every game. He throws the ball maybe 20 times a game, he’s lucky if he throws one or two deep balls and he essentially is a game-manager. In the context of the role he’s asked to play, except in the Penn State game, he’s played that role pretty well as he had no interceptions heading into Happy Valley.

The play-calling didn’t exactly go in his favor, as he was asked to throw mostly short passes against Penn State. I recall maybe one instance where he threw a deep pass to senior wideout Michael Campbell, which fell incomplete during the game. The coaching staff did not change any of its play-calling in the second half, which begs the question of whether offensive coordinator Matt Rhule and coach Al Golden trust Stewart to take shots downfield. If they don’t, then maybe a switch should be made, but I’m not quite ready to pull the plug on Stewart yet.

Overall, the offense needs to improve so it can play up to par with the defense’s play against Penn State. Needless to say, the Owls’ defense put up a valiant fight against the Nittany Lions. For a Mid-American Conference team to prevent a Big Ten Conference foe from scoring a touchdown for almost the entire game is quite an accomplishment.

The play from that unit was the reason it seemed as though there was hope for Temple against Penn State. It was what earned the team some respect from fans and media outside Temple, and it should give the team some confidence going forward. As hollow as this sounds, it seemed as though almost did count.

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

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