In victory over the Huskies, the Owls made strides on offense on Saturday.
Even though winning has become a somewhat regular occurrence for the football team, its 30-16 win over Connecticut was fairly significant for a few reasons. Looking at it from a broader angle, it’s great that the team is 3-0 for the first time since 1979 and has finally beat a Bowl Championship Series team for the first time since 2004, but even though coach Al Golden acknowledged Temple’s history with UConn and the significance of beating the Huskies, he still took the classic, if somewhat-cliché, route of just going one game at a time.
“In the terms of the BCS, I don’t mess with all of that,” Golden said. “Here’s what I’ll tell you – we lost in a tough game up there in ’07 with 63 scholarships, they beat us here in ’08 with 72 and now we beat them with full scholarships.”
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Golden added. “I don’t know anything about the BCS. All I know is that [UConn] is a tough, hard-nosed team. Our guys thought they could win, and they finished the game really strong.”
Looking at this game from a narrower angle, taking away all the milestones and just looking at this from a context of what the team has done over the past three games, the win still has a lot of meaning. This is mainly because the team’s play looked significantly better than it did during the previous two games.
The first thing I noticed was how much better the offensive line played. After giving up seven total sacks in their first two games, the Owls only gave up two and played a huge part in sophomore running back Bernard Pierce being able to rush for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
“[Pierce] just got better as the game went on, which is what a good back should do,” Golden said. “A lot of credit goes to the offensive line because we really covered them up well in the third and fourth quarter.”
Three games into the season, Pierce finally played like the Pierce everyone was familiar with last season. That’s because he had nearly as many carries as he did through the first two games combined with 26 against UConn and 30 total against both Central Michigan and Villanova. The scores of the first three games are as follows: 31-24 against Villanova, 13-10 against Central Michigan and 30-16 against UConn.
Notice how decisive the win against UConn was? The difference was Pierce. Winning is a lot easier with the ball in his hands, and it just makes too much sense to put the ball in the hands of the team’s first All-American since 2003. When he plays well, it helps the entire offense.
“It spreads the defense out, and it allows you to call more plays,” redshirt-junior quarterback Chester Stewart said.
Even though Pierce played great, there is still more the offense can do to improve. The team’s performance is lacking on third down, where the team went 3-for-13. Some of those came on incomplete passes where Stewart overthrew his target, but overall he has remained steady as the starting quarterback. Stewart has yet to throw an interception, and he didn’t have any turnovers in Saturday’s game.
“Not turning over the ball gives us a better chance to win,” Stewart said. “That’s what I work on every week because that has been my biggest problem, so I worked on that from last year till now, and it’s helped us out.”
Previously, Stewart had fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter in both the Villanova and Central Michigan games, but this time, it was senior wideout Delano Green who gave fans a heart attack with a fumble on a punt return with 5 minutes, 19 seconds left to go. The fumble put the Huskies on the Owls’ 29-yard line while trailing, 27-16. Even though the defense held together to force a three-and-out and UConn walked away with no points, it’s never good to give a BCS team the ball on the wrong side of the 50-yard line.
Speaking of special teams, calling a fake punt and a fake field goal in one game is a little excessive. Golden credits the fake punt in the first quarter where senior punter Jeff Wathne threw a 3-yard pass to junior defensive tackle Mohammed Wilkerson, which fell short of a first down as the turning point of the game.
“The second we called that play, the momentum switched,” Golden said. “Would it have gone up a few more decibels if we had converted? Absolutely. But the team understood at that point that we were here to win.”
I’m going to have to disagree here. If I had to pick a big momentum changer for this game, it would have to be junior defensive end Adrian Robinson’s 24-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown because it gave the Owls the lead in the fourth quarter and actually had an impact on the game, unlike the fake punt, which was called when the Owls were only down 3-0.
The fake field goal in the fourth quarter by sophomore placekicker Brandon McManus, where he simply took the snap and punted it was pretty pointless too. UConn could easily tell it was a fake and had a return man in the game in case of a short kick anyway. Fake plays only work well when there is an element of surprise, which the Owls used up in the first quarter.
With any team, there will be improvements to be made week by week, but this team has shown it can actually get better with each game. For once, Temple finally looks to do more than play patsy with Penn State this Saturday.
Brian Dzenis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.