The football team lost freshman running back Bernard Pierce to injury in the Owls’ 27-13 win against Army. Redshirt junior quarterback Vaughn Charlton and the offensive line also played poorly, totaling just 19 yards and one touchdown afterward.
In a 27-13 victory against Army Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, the Temple offense managed just 19 yards of total offense in the second half.
Somehow the Owls survived the Black Knights’ comeback and scored twice in the fourth quarter en route to their fourth straight victory.
If this game took place a year ago, coach Al Golden said he imagines his team would not be celebrating its 4-2 record while sitting atop the Mid-American Conference East Division.
“It shows growth that we’re competing, that the fourth quarter isn’t too big for us,” Golden said. “They score. They tie it up. Really, we hadn’t produced any offense in quite some time, and then we kind of came alive, and then we fed off each other, which good teams do.”
Though four wins in six games to start the season and lead the MAC East looks good, questions remain on the offensive side of the ball as the Owls travel to Ohio to face a tough Toledo team Saturday night.
The running back situation seemed settled, as freshman Bernard Pierce took over as the every down back three games into the season. Before last Saturday, Pierce rushed for more than 100 yards for three consecutive games, the first freshman in school history to achieve that feat. Pierce was on his way to tying Tanardo Sharps’ four straight 100-yard rushing games from back in 2002.
But with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, the Army defense tackled Pierce near the Black Knights’ sideline. He did not get up. After 15 minutes of lying on his back, a stretcher came and took him off the field.
Pierce, who had 11 carries for 65 yards and a touchdown before leaving, suffered a left shoulder injury.
“The preliminary readings are good,” Golden said. “I think it looks positive, but I’m going to refrain from talking about his medical condition until I get a chance to sit down with the docs.”
If Pierce misses any action, the Owls will have to replace a back who has rushed for 554 yards with six touchdowns and has earned midseason second-team All-MAC honors.
A combination of sophomore running back Kee-ayre Griffin and senior back Lamar McPherson would likely handle the carries in Pierce’s absence.
“You can’t let that affect you,” redshirt junior quarterback Vaughn Charlton said about the loss of Pierce. “Kee and Lamar did a great job stepping in.”
Griffin led the team with 12 carries and finished with 41 yards rushing. He added a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that gave Temple a two-touchdown advantage. As a freshman, Griffin rushed for 394 yards and five touchdowns in 12 games, and he led the team in rushing after the first two games this season before the emergence of Pierce.
“When Bernard went down, we all knew we had to flip a switch and that everybody has to work that much harder,” Griffin said. “Coach Golden always told us to prepare as a starter, so my mentality is to step up, put my back against the wall and do it for the team.”
Charlton remains the clear starter at quarterback, but questions about his effectiveness and decision making have emerged recently. After throwing three interceptions in the season opener, Charlton has thrown only three in the past five contests.
He did cap off a 75-yard drive in the first quarter with a 37-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jason Harper. He also made Army pay for a defensive pass interference penalty by finding roommate and senior tight end Steve Maneri for a 6-yard touchdown that put the Owls ahead for good in the fourth quarter.
However, Charlton has only completed roughly half his passes this season, and last Saturday, he was fortunate officials overturned his second interception after reviewing the play and ruling defensive pass interference.
Golden said Charlton missed a couple throws but praised him for his leadership and ability to bounce back quickly.
“I thought the offense kept their poise, though, because it could have just been a train wreck late in the fourth quarter, but they kind of held it together,” he said.
Yet the main area of concern falls on the offensive line. After allowing six sacks in the first five games (four at Penn State), the line allowed five sacks against Army, four from junior defensive end Josh McNary, who became Army’s career, season and single game sack leader.
“We didn’t protect very well,” Golden said. “It has been uncharacteristic to let our quarterback get hit the way he got hit.”
Senior left tackle Devin Tyler, whom McNary beat once, said the unit prepared for Army’s aggressive attack and was surprised they were beaten so many times.
“We didn’t expect to give up that many sacks, but they came ready to play and made the plays that were there,” Tyler said. “We take that very personal. We’re going to get back to the drawing board and make sure that doesn’t happen next week.”
Next week is just days away, and with the Owls looking for their fifth win in a row, Golden knows a lot of areas need work. But he admits there’s a swagger and confidence to this team that cannot be ignored.
“There’s a confidence right now, even as there’s an ebb and flow in the game,” he said. “There’s a confidence on the sideline that we hadn’t had before. To not lose in a month is a big deal.”
Pete Dorchak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.