College football is a crazy thing. One minute you think you know something, then a team rolls in and completely lays an egg (ahem, UConn). Now, I’m not saying UConn gave the game to Temple, far from it. Temple took the game over in the second half with a dominating run performance against 8 and 9 men in the box (just the way the good Lord intended football to be played). But I’ll get to that later.
Every week, things surprise us. Virginia Tech’s season is over. Sorry Hokies fans, that’s what you get for losing to James Madison. And Boise? That lauded out of conference schedule looks pretty weak all of a sudden (kudos on the jerseys though. I’ve been scouring the Internet looking for those Broncos’ gloves for, you know, when I play some important rough touch games).
Things change weekly, sometimes a course of a season changes mid-game. Which is what we saw at Lincoln Financial Field. In somewhat of a breakdown of what we learned, what we thought we already knew, and what’s on the horizon, we saw the seeds of a coming out party for a football program once abandoned by its BCS conference and chastised by its own community. But no more.
By now I’m sure you know the story. Temple defeated UConn 30-16 at home. UConn played catch-up for a majority of the contest and ultimately wasn’t able to figure out Temple’s defense when they moved the ball inside the TU 30. Bernard Pierce flipped the switch on his running style (possibly coming out of the effects from his training camp concussion) and ran over, around, and any other appropriate preposition you can dream of to describe the way he treated UConn’s second level. Temple’s D stiffened in the second half after allowing a Jordan Todman 59 yard touchdown run just a minute into the third frame. From there, Adrian Robinson (the 2009 MAC defensive player of the year) benefited from a ‘Peanut” Joseph hit that stood up Todman and did what all Pop Warner kids are taught to do. He strips Todman and goes 24 yards the other way, effectively ending the game.
All well and good. Temple is 3-0 for the first time since 1979 when they went 10-2 and won the Garden State Bowl. Shortly after, former President Peter Liacouras announced that Temple football would be in a Sugar Bowl in the years to come… I will disregard hindsight and move on.
WHAT WE THOUGHT WE KNEW…
-That UConn was pretty good. Picked by some to finish the year inside the Top 25 and represent the Big East in the BCS, this team has major issues. For one, their quarterback Zach Frazer really struggled against a Temple defense that last year ranked in the 40’s nationally (but wait, doesn’t college football change rapidly? Yes, balcony, but I bring it up for reference sake). His Philip Rivers throwing style matched with his Chad Pennington arm do not mesh well. He completed 51% of his passes and had a good number thrown into Cherry jerseys. Temple dropped two Frazer offerings that nailed them in the numbers. A majority of his throws were dumped over the middle or into blown coverage assignments. If not for a steady rushing attack led by Todman (26 carries 195 yards) this game would have been further out of reach.
-We thought we knew UConn could run the ball and Temple could stop the run. We were right about UConn. The Huskies out rushed the Owls 156-28 in the first half but could only muster 84 in the second. They averaged 5.7 yards a carry but were forced to go to the air once Temple took the lead in the fourth quarter. Temple’s defense on the other hand, got pushed around between the 30’s, but were able to turn it on backed against their end zones and turned away the Huskies throughout the second half.
(Something that was blatantly obvious about Temple’s defense. They don’t get set. At all. Ever. They’re constantly trying to identify the strong and quick sides of offenses and run to align themselves once the offense is already in the quarterbacks cadence. It hurt them throughout the game, but some half time adjustments made it somewhat more tolerable. Against a better team, say like a Penn State, they will get blown off the ball if they aren’t ready.)
WHAT WE LEARNED
-Temple is more mentally tough than a lot of people give them credit for. Jokes about living in North Philly aside, this team has heart. Something I haven’t seen in this team since I started attending Temple games in the mid 90’s (and I’m not even that old). You can sense swagger on the sidelines and a confident attitude when they’re down. After scoring a go ahead touchdown to open the third quarter, I never got the sense Temple was panicked. After a muffed punt by Delano Green late in the fourth with Temple up 27 16 the stadium groaned with the feeling of ‘here we go again Temple football’. But not the guys on the sidelines. Al Golden has transformed that locker room. It’s only a matter of time before it spills over into the University and people start actually attending their games (more on that later).
-UConn, as good as they’ll be in the marginally weak Big East, is pretty soft. The huskies weren’t just beaten by a better team on Saturday, they were pushed around in the second half. Even at field level, you could see the size of the holes Pierce rushed through in the fourth quarter. They were gaping. He was on top of the Huskies secondary without being touched. Pierce finished with 172 yards on 26 carries with 2 rushing scores getting most of his yardage in the second half when the Owls realized they could pound the ball. Even more shocking was the way the Huskies responded after Robinson’s fumble return. In fact, once Robinson took the fumble to the house to give Temple the lead, I immediately tweeted (@DSKoob) the following: ‘This games over. Zero confidence in (Frazer)’. And what did UConn do? They came out on the next possession and went 3 and out. Then got the ball back on their next possession down 27 16 and went three and out again. Frazer’s stats in those drives- 0 for 4 with 2 yards rushing. His fourth quarter stats altogether? 1 for 6 passing for 15 yards (which came on a 3rd and 17 when the Owls were playing back) with 3 rushes for -6 yards and a fumble. Doesn’t exactly scream confidence. To be fair, Temple turned it up a notch in the fourth quarter, but Frazer had time to throw all game. But hey, this is not a UConn bash column. They played poorly in the second half and it cost them. Just don’t refer to a team you’ve basically stolen two games from (TD catch called back in ’07, phantom holding call that cost Temple in ‘08) and refer to them as a Division I-AA team (reportedly) coach. Poor form.
WHAT WE LEARNED
-We know Temple will go into Happy Valley next weekend with a better record than Penn State. The great minds over at the Koob research department (of one) poured over the stats and wasn’t able to figure out when the last time that happened. Maybe a reader could enlighten us. Penn State is coming off a 24-0 beating of MAC Brethren Kent State and seemed to have bounced back after the nationally televised drubbing from the crimson bloodied hands of Alabama. This game will be closer than a lot of people think.
-Quick tangent on the attendance at Temple games. This past game’s paid attendance was around eighteen thousand. That’s almost 95 thousand less than Michigan got at their season opener against UConn. You can fill the entire Ben Hill Griffen Stadium at the University of Florida with the difference between those numbers. Believe me, I know… That’s a cramped stadium. In their last 14 games, Temple is 12-2 and has an 8 game home winning streak. It’s pretty embarrassing when fans in the first twenty rows can hear quarterbacks barking out signals on a game changing third down because the crowd is just above a doll roar. Temple students, you’re a 25 minute subway ride away from the Sports Complex. The schools first MAC championship is theirs to lose and conference play hasn’t even started. 18 thousand? Child Please (sorry Ocho).
-For UConn, a disappointing trip down I-95 for sure, but a non-conference loss does nothing to deter them from a possible BCS trip. Their running game is solid and with better game management from Frazer they may be setting themselves up to compete with Pittsburgh for the wide open Big East title. They faded down the stretch in this one but it is a long season. And like previously stated, college football is a crazy thing. It can change weekly, daily, or quarterly. That is why they play the games.