No Bernard Pierce, no problem.
The football team defeated Kent State, 47-13, for its ninth straight victory on Senior Day at Lincoln Financial Field.
In Pierce’s absence (the freshman running back left the game after one run in the first quarter with what coach Al Golden termed a “fairly significant and substantial” shoulder injury), fellow freshman rusher Matt Brown responded for 156 yards on 18 carries, and the offense scored 41unanswered points.
The Owls (9-2 overall, 7-0 Mid-American Conference) trailed 10-9 at halftime after being outgained offensively 276 total yards to 138 total yards. After the first quarter alone, the Golden Flashes had posted distinct advantages on that side of the ball, as Temple had one total yard of offense, while the defense had permitted Kent State (5-6 overall, 4-3 MAC) to convert on four of six third-down attempts.
“We were in trouble,” Golden said. “We looked like we were running in cement in the first half. They had two weeks off, and it showed.”
Part of the problem for the Owls’ defense was its inability to stop the big passing play. The Golden Flashes kicked a 21-yard field goal and scored on the first drive of the game thanks to a 32-yard pass and a 12-yard pass. Despite a missed field goal on Kent State’s next drive and an interception by sophomore defensive end Adrian Robinson, the Owls surrendered nine more pass plays of 10 yards or more after that first drive.
“[The defense was] breathing fire to start the second half,” Golden said. “We just kept putting the heat on, and it started to snowball. I think we did [emphasize rushing the passer more in the second half], but I think the kids just started rushing the passer better. I think we got our legs back at the half. I think they got almost 45 minutes there where the defense got a chance to rest. We looked bad early. We looked slow-footed. We looked tired. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We didn’t break on the ball. We didn’t tackle the ball well. We didn’t keep anybody in the pocket. Other than that, we were good.
“[In the second half, we played] more man, tighter coverage,” Golden added. “I think the rush helped a lot.”
The Owls answered back after halftime. In the first half, redshirt sophomore quarterback Chester Stewart showed flashes of big-play ability. He hit junior wide receiver Delano Green for a 34-yard completion and ran for 12 yards en route to a 24-yard field goal by freshman kicker Brandon McManus to close out the first half. An earlier 34-yard pass to redshirt sophomore tight end Evan Rodriguez was negated after Stewart threw an interception to Kent State junior free safety Brian Lainhart in the endzone, and a 40-yarder to Green was overturned on review.
“He makes the plays,” Golden said. “He could do a better job on the interception he threw.”
“Each game, I get a little bit more comfortable,” Stewart said. “This defense was a little tough for me. I’m not going to lie. They came out with a lot of different looks [Stewart finished 6-for-16 for 124 yards and one touchdown].”
But in the second half, those big plays, specifically big runs by Brown, went the Owls’ way.
Temple took its first lead on a 28-yard field goal by McManus on the first drive of the third quarter. After the Owls’ defense knocked out Kent State freshman quarterback Spencer Keith, Brown took a handoff from Stewart 71 yards to the endzone for the Owls’ longest rush from scrimmage this year. Pierce held the previous high with his 68-yard rush in Temple’s 27-24 win against Navy Oct. 31.
“I had a big role to fill. Bernard, he’s one of the best backs in the country. I just had to pick up where he left off,” Brown said. “[I just saw] the endzone [on that 71-yard run]. I just went to it. My line did a great job opening holes for me, and I just hit them.”
“He is a bug [Matt Brown],” Golden added. “He’s good. How do you improve your team? You improve your team when a kid like that comes on, and you move Kee-ayre over to corner, and he picks one off, and he scores.”
Redshirt sophomore Kee-ayre Griffin, who made the switch from running back to cornerback, intercepted his first career pass and returned it for a touchdown.
“It was a situation where we said, ‘Hey, Kee, we think you’re one of the best 22 players on the team, and you deserve to play. The guys in front of you right now are playing really well right now, but we want to work with you,’” Golden said. “And he said, ‘Sure, Coach, let’s do it.’”
Robinson then forced a fumble from Kent State that Brown eventually turned into another Temple touchdown.
And Green, who lost that 40-yard catch earlier in the game, returned a punt 52 yards for the score and then ran in another 50-yarder to complete the Owls’ scoring. He became the first player in Temple football history to return a punt more than 50 yards to the endzone in back-to-back games.
“He’s doing a nice job. There’s a lot of Delano Greens on our team,” Golden said. “He’s got certain plays on our offense, and he’s got certain plays on special teams, and he does it really well. He executes his role really well. He’s one of those guys who’s unselfish. He’s got courage, and he makes really good decisions.”
The Owls close out their regular season Oct. 27 in an 11 a.m. game at Ohio. The Bobcats defeated Northern Illinois, 38-31. The matchup Friday will determine the MAC East Division champion and the Eastern Division representative in Dec. 4’s MAC Championship game in Detroit. Despite Temple’s one-game lead in the conference, a Temple loss and Ohio win would even the playing field, and the tiebreaker is head-to-head record.
“We’re positioned to play Ohio next Friday,” Golden said. “That’s all we’re going to worry about, and all we’re thinking about right now.”
Game Notes: “I don’t even know how he did it. It wasn’t even on a play he carried the ball,” Golden said of Pierce’s injury…Golden said the Owls’ contingency plan for Pierce is probably a combination of Brown, senior running back Lamar McPherson, senior wide receiver Jason Harper and redshirt sophomore Joe Jones…Golden said he sang “Zombie Nation” for the team at halftime because “they weren’t having any fun.”…Brown said if he could compare himself to any running back in the National Football League that it would be the San Diego Chargers’ Darren Sproles. “I like Darren Sproles. He’s short and quick like me. He hits those holes. I ain’t there yet. I got work to do, but I’m on my way.”…The Temple News will have more coverage of the football team in the Dec. 1 issue and will update the blog with results from Friday’s game against Ohio.
Jennifer Reardon can be reached at email@example.com.