Passing attack must balance ground game.
There are two ways to spin the football team’s annual spring Cherry and White game last Saturday. It was a great day for the defense or a bad day for the offense.
In this year’s iteration of the team’s annual intrasquad scrimmage, instead of two full squads competing against each other, the offense (White) was pitted against the defense (Cherry). While the White squad “won” by squeaking by 3-0 on a 51-yard field goal from sophomore placekicker Brandon McManus, it was about as ugly as a win can get.
The defense bullied Temple’s quarterbacks all day and totaled eight sacks and six interceptions. It is worth noting that in all the quarterback carnage, redshirt senior Vaughn Charlton, the team’s starting quarterback in last December’s EagleBank Bowl, did not get sacked once nor did he throw an interception.
That is because he is now a tight end.
“He jumped out, and he took some routes [last] Tuesday because he was frustrated with some things,” coach Al Golden said. “We were all shocked at how well he moved and his ball skills. By the time Thursday rolled around, he was a tight end.”
“We talked about how we can better the offense, [so] I moved to tight end because we have so many athletes at quarterback,” Charlton added. “Athletically, I can run the tight end position. I know the routes from when I played quarterback. I know how far to run, what to do and where the ball is going to be.”
I don’t really know what to make of that. Charlton said he had never played the position before, and at the Cherry and White game, only one pass was thrown his way. It fell incomplete. The jury is out on whether the position change actually betters the offense, and that is assuming Charlton starts at tight end over redshirt junior Evan Rodriguez, who had 145 receiving yards and three touchdowns last season. Charlton also has to contend with the Owls’ two leading receivers from the Cherry and White game, redshirt freshmen tight ends Alex Jackson and Cody Booth, who combined for seven catches for 70 yards. I can’t imagine it is easy to change positions. He has definitely got an uphill battle ahead of him.
With Charlton out of the quarterback sweepstakes, redshirt juniors Chester Stewart and Mike Gerardi as well as redshirt freshman Chris Coyer are left to compete for the starting job. No one from the quarterback trio did much to distinguish himself.
“Overall, as an offense, I don’t think we did what we wanted to come out and do,” Stewart said. “We had a lot of good drives going, and we came out with a bang, but we didn’t finish too strong. We left a lot of plays on the field.”
I know it is early, but if I had to pick a starter right now, I’d go with Stewart. Statistically, he had the best day of the three, completing 8-of-15 passing attempts for 119 yards and two interceptions. He was also sacked twice.
While those statistics are nothing to be proud of, a closer look reveals some positives. Most of Stewart’s yards came from throwing long passes and hitting wide receivers Delano Green, Rod Streator and Michael Campbell for 24, 25 and 32 yards, respectively.
By comparison, Gerardi’s longest throw was 18 yards, and Coyer’s was 17 yards. Stewart simply was better at getting the ball down the field. He also looked as though he was the most comfortable running the offense.
“I’m stepping into the leadership role,” Stewart said. “I am definitely comfortable with the offense. I can talk to the guys, and they’ll respond. They’ll help me out. We’re gelling together as a team, and that’s good.”
Even though it did not reach the endzone, the ground game was its usual effective self. Sophomore running back Bernard Pierce totaled 88 yards on 14 carries, including a 22-yard run that utilized his many moves.
“I’m not going to lie. I wanted to score. Our defense didn’t see it that way,” Pierce said.
There is no doubt in my mind that with only a few more carries, Pierce would have reached pay dirt. The fact that he did not score is no big deal, as he will have plenty of opportunities to score during the regular season.
Another running back that played well was redshirt sophomore Ahkeem Smith. Smith, who was this year’s special teams Most Improved Player, totaled 45 yards on the ground and pulled in a 17-yard pass. Sophomore back Matt Brown also made the most of his brief appearance, totaling 25 yards on five carries, including a 10-yard run. It is important to have quality depth at the running back position, especially if the ground game has to carry a struggling passing attack.
The key to the 2010 season will be making this offense more versatile. The element of surprise is gone for the Owls this year. Every opposing coach knows this offense revolves around the ground game and All-American Pierce, and they will game plan for him.
This is why it is so important to develop the passing game to keep defenses honest. With about 166 days until Temple’s Sept. 3 rematch with Villanova, it is too early to hit the panic button with the team’s quarterbacks, but they need to be more responsible with the football. This does not mean that the Owls need a prolific passing attack game in and game out. They just need to do enough to convert third-and-long situations, not turn the ball over, and when it is crunch time, quickly get the ball up the field.
The Owls may have had a successful season last year, but they still have a lot to prove. Temple needs to show it can build on that success. Last year, the bar for success was finishing at or over .500. This year, the expectations are a lot higher.
Brian Dzenis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.