Lackluster play must improve

So the football team wins its first overtime game in school history last Thursday with a 13-10 win over the defending Mid-American Conference Champions. That must have been really exciting, right?

No, it wasn’t. It really wasn’t.

One word sums up play of both teams involved: lackluster. Temple coach Al Golden’s response to a question about what he was pleased with about the game wasn’t all that surprising.

“The win,” Golden said. “We’re sticking together and finding a way to win.”
And that’s pretty much all the team can really be happy about after this game. Statistically, everyone’s performance was very vanilla. Sophomore running back Bernard Pierce had the team’s only touchdown, and 58 rushing yards and 15 receiving yards on two catches. Granted, he left the game in the third quarter with a hand injury, and he had a touchdown taken away from him in second quarter thanks to a penalty from junior wide receiver Rod Streater. But it’s not like he was having a huge workload, as he only had 10 carries in about two-and-a-half quarters of play.

Sophomore running back Matt Brown started over Pierce again, and he didn’t seem all that effective with just 58 yards on the ground and 17 in the air. One has to wonder why it seemed like no aspect of the Owls’ offense was effective against Central Michigan. Was it the bad play from the offensive line? Was the defense stacking players at the line of scrimmage to stop Pierce and Brown? It’s hard to figure out exactly what made it difficult for the Owls to find the end zone.

“I don’t know the X’s and O’s,” Brown said. “I just run my plays and do my assignments.”

I’d make a snarky comment here, but it occurred to me that I probably know less about the X’s and O’s than Brown does.

Seriously, I’m going to make a semi-educated guess and say it’s because of the offensive line. The unit let redshirt-junior quarterback Chester Stewart get sacked four times and forced him to rush throws to avoid more. One of those sacks caused another late game fumble from Stewart. While Stewart should have done more to protect the ball, I feel the turnovers from him are simply a byproduct of defenders constantly being in the backfield. It also doesn’t help when the team lost junior offensive lineman Wayne Tribue in the second half in the game to an injury.

And this is where I started having issues with the play-calling in this game. The offensive line is clearly struggling, so what does the offense do? It comes out with a five-wide receiver set, leaving no one to help Stewart in the backfield when a defender inevitably broke through. None of those plays seemed to work, so they should be ditched, and instead of having a fifth receiver, put someone who can block back there. It can be any of the team’s running backs or redshirt-senior tight end Vaughn Charlton, who was often the fifth guy out there, and it didn’t seem to do him much good as he managed just two catches for 10 yards. He would probably be more useful as a blocker than an as a fifth receiver. The team has enough talent at the wideout spot with senior Michael Campbell and Streater, and there is a long list of potential wide receivers and tight ends that could take the third and fourth spots.

That isn’t to say that Charlton is necessarily a bad receiver. It’s just that Stewart isn’t getting enough blocking to the point where he could better utilize a five-wide set and Charlton or any other player in the backfield could help him out.

On defense, the unit wasn’t perfect, and they saved their best plays until the very end of the game, but they tightened up when they needed to.

“We gave up some big plays, but down in the red zone, we got sticky,” Golden said. “Down there, that’s where games are lost.”

The defensive line couldn’t consistently get pressure on sophomore Central Michigan quarterback Ryan Radcliff as he threw for 299 yards, which looks like a feat on the stat sheet, but not from watching the game in-person. He dinked and dunked his way up the field in a spread offense, and Central Michigan’s reluctance to really force the action on offense is another reason the Owls won.

Radcliff didn’t efficiently use the time he had in the pocket.

Just like last season, winning ugly has become something of a specialty for this team.

“We’ve been through every kind of situation, and we know how to handle it and that helps us,” Stewart said.

Temple is very fortunate to be 2-0 right now. Central Michigan gave the Owls a lot of opportunities to take a strong lead, but Golden’s squad failed to take advantage. Temple’s next two opponents, Connecticut and Penn State, won’t be nearly as forgiving as Villanova and Central Michigan.

“We’re going up in class,” Golden said. “[Connecticut is] a well-coached team. We can’t play like we did tonight and beat UConn.”

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

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