Willie Hardemon started to board the team’s charter flight to Tempe, Ariz., last Wednesday believing his coach-imposed suspension was still in effect. Just as he got to the door of the plane, the coaches pulled the sophomore safety aside and told him of a change in his status.
” ‘You did everything you need to do,'” he recalled being told. ” ‘You’re playing.'”
The Owls have opted not to publicly discuss the situation that limited Hardemon to only three or four practices prior to the season opener at Arizona State. The night after being reinstated, he helped halt a Sun Devils drive at the one-yard line when he wrestled the ball from an ASU wide receiver and registered his first career interception.
Getting hyped for games has never been a problem for Hardemon. Though skinny and sleepy-eyed, the 19 year old said he knows it’s game time when the whistle blows.
“I’m an athlete, so any time you put me in the game, I automatically cut on,” Hardemon said. “No matter how long I’m out of football.”
Without being prompted, coach Bobby Wallace made a similar comment regarding Hardemon’s effort. Wallace’s point of view was a bit different, however.
“He’s skinny, doesn’t look like a football player, but you play the game and all the sudden he’s knocking people out, making interceptions,” Wallace said. “But we’ve got to demand more from him in practice before we let him start.”
The implication is that once Hardemon shows he will come to play in practice, he could start at safety in the Owls’ thinned defensive backfield. Former walk-on Andrew Smith, who started at strong safety against Arizona State, will be replaced in Saturday’s game by Christian Dunbar. Dunbar, who has changed positions so often in his time at Temple it is now impossible to count, had been backing up senior Rodney Wormley at defensive end.
The move underscores how desperate the team is for able bodies among the cornerbacks and safeties after losing two starters to academic ineligibility.
“Everybody’s always important, but now it’s a fact of accountability,” senior cornerback Ray Lamb said. “We have to hold on to every last person we have now since we have no depth whatsoever.”
It appears every position outside the starting front four could be in flux for the defense. Wallace briefly speculated before the season that Lamb was capable of moving to safety if necessary, but downplayed that possibility when asked last week.
Still, in that same breath at the time, Wallace also said he didn’t see Dunbar changing positions again in the near future. So anything is possible.
GORDON FILLS IN
Junior wide receiver Bruce Gordon wasted no time leaving his mark in his first game as an Owl. Gordon, playing in place of an ineligible Mike Holley, caught a game-high six passes for 98 yards. … Senior quarterback Mike McGann made two mental errors on interceptions, but got rid of the ball in time and dropped back 36 times without getting sacked. McGann connected with senior running back Umar Ferguson for an 11-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Each week, the Owls’ coaches and players seem more and more sold on Ferguson’s ability as a receiver. … The Owls did not commit a penalty and converted two of three opportunities in the redzone into touchdowns. … First-year junior cornerback Chris Page had nine tackles in his first Division I-A game. Senior defensive end Mike Mendenhall quietly had a career day, registering eight solo tackles, a forced fumble and a pass defensed. His linemate, senior Antwon Burton, made five tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
Calhoun latest threat in storied rushing system
Coach Bobby Wallace knows what happens when a playmaking running back is combined with a proven offensive line.
“[A team that is] scary offensively for our defense,” Wallace said Tuesday at the weekly media luncheon.
Wisconsin running back Brian Calhoun picked up right where Anthony Davis left off last season, after Davis himself took over for the greatest running back in college football history, at least statistically. Davis accumulated 4,676 rushing yards in his college career, second-most in school history to Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne.
Calhoun’s day against Bowling Green in this year’s season opener rivaled any by those two. Calhoun punished the Falcons by rushing for 258 yards and tying a school record with five rushing touchdowns.
The demoralizing thing, according the Wallace, was that the Badgers began the game trying to out-scheme their opponent, before realizing the best way to beat the Falcons was to hit them head-on.
“It looked to me like Wisconsin started the game with a little motion, and little shifting, tried to get a little cute and fancy and Bowling Green takes the ball right down the field twice and scores,” Wallace said. “[Bowling Green] goes up by two touchdowns and Wisconsin says, ‘We better run the football and hold onto it.’
“And they basically just started mashing it. That’s really the only way you can look at it.”
Calhoun was on his way to a decent career at Colorado as a freshman and sophomore, leading the Buffaloes in rushing in 2003. He transferred to Wisconsin and spent 2004 on the scout team per NCAA transfer eligibility rules.
Every week during the season, Calhoun would try to copy the upcoming opponent’s running back in practice. He helped that decorated defense prepare for the opposing back, and he gained favor on his new team.
“Just his attitude towards that really got him a lot of respect from the staff as well as his teammates,” Badgers coach Barry Alvarez said. “This is the first time he’s played in two years. I think he was excited about it and [last Saturday] showed some of the things he can do.”
Ex-Owl progress report
Linebacker Troy Bennett, the Owls’ second-leading tackler a year ago, is still trying to latch on with a professional organization.
Bennett signed with New Jersey-based Lunar Sports Group last December and went undrafted in this spring’s NFL Draft. Bennett is working for a construction company in his hometown of Paulsboro, N.J., while awaiting an opportunity with a team either in the United States or abroad.
Bennett “was great in college, and enough people know about him,” said Pat Capra, an agent with Lunar. “Detroit, Jacksonville and Miami have all expressed interest at some time. He’s on the short list for those teams. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but if players go down [with injuries] he will be someone they’ll consider.”
Bennett had a tryout with the NFL’s Detroit Lions a few weeks ago, but as of Thursday afternoon had not heard anything definite, Capra said. Another option is NFL Europe, which begins its season in February.
Wide receiver Zamir Cobb was among 10 players released by the Pittsburgh Steelers Aug. 29 in a roster-trimming purge. The Green Bay Packers released defensive tackle A.J. Lindsay, and defensive tackle Larry Chester was released by the Dolphins. Chester, an eight-year NFL veteran, played for the Owls from 1996 to 1997.
Gridiron Report is produced by Ben Watanabe for The Temple News. For breaking news, log on to www.temple-news.com.