Team falters down the stretch

After the football team dropped the final two games, the bowl picture is hazy.

Man, oh man. My head is still spinning from how quickly things went south for the football team.

In two weeks, the Owls went from Mid-American Conference title contenders, sure of a bowl appearance, to the edge of the bowl bubble, hoping other teams lose so they can steal a spot.
The blame for the late-season meltdown lies on both sides of the ball. On offense, just about everything fell apart. Sophomore running back Bernard Pierce is literally falling apart with all his injuries; there’s the hamstring, ankle and who knows what else. And whether he plays still seems to make an impact on the Owls’ performance.

The team went 1-3 when Pierce either missed the game completely or had a few carries, and then left the game, as was the case with the Northern Illinois and Ohio losses. As for that other loss against Penn State in September, the Owls led at halftime, 13-9, before Pierce was injured in the second half. Lo and behold, the Owls later lost. One would think the team would come up with an adequate contingency plan in the event he goes down, but that hasn’t materialized.Screen shot 2010-11-29 at 11.14.34 PM

The offensive line’s play has deteriorated down the stretch. The team couldn’t amass more than 100 yards on the ground in its final three games after doing so in every game before that. In those same final three games, the unit allowed 10 sacks, four fewer than what has been allowed in the rest of the season.

Let’s conclude the offensive analysis by looking at quarterback play. Make no mistake, redshirt-sophomore Mike Gerardi is an improvement over redshirt junior Chester Stewart, but he is not without his own flaws. The main flaw: interceptions. He has thrown at least two picks four separate times. Those numbers may not look bad because he has amassed 1,290 passing yards and 10 passing touchdowns in half of a season, but it adds up. Temple has committed 10 total turnovers in the final three games, six of which were Gerardi interceptions, and the Owls went 1-2 in a pivotal stretch of the season.

Moving on to the defense. After not allowing teams to rush for more than 200 yards in consecutive games since playing Army and Northern Illinois this season, the Owls allowed 204 and 253 yards, the highest total of the season, to Ohio and Miami-Ohio, respectively, in the final two games of the season. Granted, the team lost starting senior linebacker Elijah Joseph to a knee injury in the Ohio game, but there are other playmakers on this team, and those numbers shouldn’t have happened.

The toughest part to swallow is that neither Ohio nor Miami-Ohio is an impressive team on paper. Neither team has the out-of-conference résumé the Owls have, and neither team beat a team from a Bowl Championship Series conference. For the life of me, I can’t grasp how these two teams could have beaten the Owls. I keep thinking it’s the Owls beating themselves rather than vice versa.

I hate to talk about this, but you can’t bring up the team’s recent events without talking about the sexual assault allegations against two players that surfaced this past week. While there is never a good time for a scandal of that magnitude to hit a team, having the news surface one day before the team’s regular season finale against Miami-Ohio has to be extra hurtful. It’s not surprising the team played what I consider its worst game of the season in a 23-3 loss the day after the news broke. No one from Temple has spoken in-depth about the allegations on the record, but I would think this has been a huge distraction for the team.

Given what has been reported about the allegations, the situation doesn’t change my opinion of coach Al Golden, his staff or the 110 or so players who have done nothing wrong off the field, and this isn’t an adequate reason to throw the entire team under the bus.

But, given what the team has done on the field recently, I’m not sure how to feel about this season just yet. This mostly hinges on whether the Owls make it to a bowl game, which they will learn Dec. 5. All they can do is wait and hope, which isn’t a fun position to be in.

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

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