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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rick Pitino lobbies for Temple to Big East

Despite reports that Villanova has been trying to block Temple from transferring to the Big East, it appears that Temple has a friend within the Big East in Louisville.

Rick Pitino, Louisville men’s basketball coach, is actively lobbying to add Temple for both basketball and football in the Big East. Pitino expressed his opinion to Big East commissioner John Marinatto on Wednesday that the conference needs to expand its basketball profile to make up for the losses of basketball powerhouses Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which announced their departure for the Atlantic Coast Conference in September.

Pitino said that a combination of Temple’s rich basketball history and the recent success of the football team make it an attractive candidate for addition to the conference.

Andy Katz and Rick Pitino on admitting Temple to the Big East.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ice hockey inherits leading scorer as coach

frain playerRyan Frain holds every major Temple ice hockey offensive record since official stats have been kept. Frain is the Owls’ all-time leader in points, goals, assists and games played, among other categories.

When Frain graduated this summer, coach Jerry Roberts and the team were faced with the question, “How do we move on without one of the greatest players in the program’s history?” For Roberts, the answer was easy: Make him a coach.

“It’s so hard to pour everything you have into [something], and to just walk away, it’s almost impossible,” said Roberts, who played for Temple from 2002-07. “When the opportunity came up, [Frain] jumped on it and I don’t see him letting go of it anytime soon.”

Frain played for Temple from 2006-10, leading the team in scoring in four out of five seasons. Last season as the assistant captain, Frain scored a team-high 37 points while leading the Owls to their first ever appearance in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Nationals. Frain contacted Roberts this summer and offered his assistance as coach for the 2011-12 season.

“I wanted to give back to these guys and make them better as individuals, not only in hockey but in life,” Frain said. “I want to help these guys have the same success I did.”

“I didn’t want to leave Temple hockey for good,” Frain added. “I wanted to help [the players] like the Temple coaches helped me.”

Frain has fit right in with the coaching staff. Along with Roberts, offensive coach Chris Mariello and defensive coach Konstantin Sakherzon are also former Temple players. The three young coaches each played from 2003-05, when the team won three consecutive Delaware Valley Collegiate Hockey Conference championships.

“It’s easy for the players to relate to the coaches, and vice versa, because in the past 10 years they’ve all been there,” senior forward Taylor Lockhart said. “They’ve all been in our shoes. It’s easier for the coaches to get across to the players what needs to be done, or what needs to happen.”

“It’s a whole different ballgame, going from player to coach,” Frain added. “As I was a big contributor to the team for the past five years, it’s hard for me to stand there on the bench and not want to jump out there with them and help them score or give them a lift in confidence.”

Frain has been working with Mariello and the offense on calling out matchups for line changes and identifying trends from the opposition.

“Anybody who played with [Frain] respects anything he says, you really take it to heart,” Lockhart said. “It’s almost as if he gets extra attention because some of the kids who played with him know what he used to do on the ice.”

Lockhart and his teammates have been dealt the task of trying to replace Frain’s offensive production this year. So far they haven’t been successful. The Owls have lost 10 games in a row after winning their season opener against Rider. The offense is averaging 2.00 goals per game as opposed to their 3.84 average last season with Frain.

“It’s definitely been a challenge,” Roberts said. “[Frain] wasn’t just the leading goal scorer for one year, he was the leading goal scorer for several years. You knew that every single night he was going to get on the board in some way shape or form.”

“It’s been different,” Lockhart added. “We know were not going to go out there and score four goals a game. I realize that some of the returning players and myself have a lot more weight on their shoulders to score those goals.”

Despite the Owls’ scoring woes, there have been some bright spots. Junior forwards Joe Pisko and Sean Nealis have each stepped up and played significant roles on offense. Nealis, who had to earn his spot on the team after being cut last year, leads the team in points.

“The biggest name among people who have stepped up is undoubtedly [Nealis],” Roberts said. “Every time he’s on the ice, stuff is happening around him.”

“I’m really glad that [Nealis] decided to come back out,” Frain added. “I know that when you get cut it’s a huge blow to your confidence. He’s a gritty player. He works really hard. Obviously, he’s the leading scorer so things are paying off for him.”

Senior forward George Rutter joins Lockhart, Nealis and Pisko to make up the new face of the Owls’ offense.

“We have Pisko, Lockhart and Rutter, those are the guys who I like to count on, night in and night out, to be contributors,” Frain said.

“With [Frain] leaving, we have a relatively younger offensive unit this year,” Roberts added. “We’re still looking to identify some of his replacements.”

While the offense has struggled to adjust without Frain, Roberts said that injuries and good competition have been the cause of the Owls’ early season woes. Senior defensemen Andrew Trainor and Jordan Lawrence, two of the Owls’ best players, have both missed significant time due to injury and six of the Owls’ 10 losses have come against teams who also went to the ACHA Nationals last year.

“Lines have been all over the place,” Roberts said. “We’re still experimenting to find out what works best. Not so much for establishing top lines, but establishing depth where we have at least three and hopefully four solid lines.”

“I’m trying to keep guys positive,” Frain added. “The wins are going to come their way. It’s hard to get into a groove when you’re losing.”

Whether or not the Owls can break out of their early-season slump remains to be seen, but no matter what happens, Frain will be behind the bench doing everything he can to help his team win, just like he’s been doing for the past five years.

“I love this team,” Frain said. “I always thought it was weird how much [Roberts] loved [the team] as much as he did when I was a player. Now, I feel the same way, or even more.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Run game powers Owls over Bulls

With a résumé already filled with numerous Temple football achievements, junior running back Bernard Pierce etched his name into the record books even further on Saturday against Buffalo.

Pierce ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns as the Owls shut out Buffalo, 34-0. Pierce now has 17 touchdowns on the season and 44 total touchdowns in his career, both of which are new Temple records.

“It means a lot,” Pierce said. “It means I’m in the mix with all the great backs that came to Temple.”

Pierce’s two touchdowns came at the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter. Pierce’s first score, a two-yard run that capped off a 72-yard drive, tied his own single season touchdown record of 16 and Paul Palmer’s (1983-86) all-time total touchdown record of 43.

Pierce busted out for a 53-yard touchdown run on the second play of the Owls’ fourth drive of the game. His second score of the game broke his single-season touchdown record as well as Palmer’s all-time touchdown record. Pierce broke Palmer’s all-time rushing touchdown record last week against Ball State.

“It’s nice to know, but I’m not worried about it too much,” Pierce said. “At the end of the day, we have five regular season games left, so I have to keep looking toward the next game.”

Pierce’s two touchdowns, plus a 28-yard field goal by Owls’ junior placekicker Brandon McManus on the opening drive, gave the Owls an early 17-point lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Owls piled it on in the second quarter with a trick play on special teams. After the Owls lined up to punt from the Buffalo 49-yard line, junior linebacker Ahkeem Smith took a direct snap around the edge for a 49-yard touchdown. Smith, a former running back who was converted to defense this year, gave the Owls a 24-point lead with a little more than five minutes left to play in the first half.

“I was ready to roll on that one,” coach Steve Addazio said. “We got the look we wanted…and BAM, we’re gone.”

“I’ve been telling him to call it almost every game now, and he finally called it today,” Smith said. “We saw that it was the perfect situation, so we called it before they snapped the ball.”

As has been customary in games when the Owls have a had a lead this year, Pierce had limited action in the second half. He carried the ball three times in the third quarter and didn’t have a carry in the fourth quarter.

However, junior running back Matt Brown filled in at running back in the second half and proved why the Owls have been able to rest Pierce and still be successful.

Brown rushed for 81 yards in the second half, 58 of which came on a long touchdown run that gave the Owls a 31-point lead. Brown finished the game with 120 yards rushing to go along with Pierce’s total of 152.

“[Pierce is] the big guy,” Brown said. “He’s going to set it off and I’ll just do whatever I can to put us in a better position to score.”

It was the second consecutive game in which Brown and Pierce have each rushed for over 100 yards. The pair now has a Temple-record three games in their career in which they have each rushed for 100 yards. The Owls finished the game with 400 yards rushing.

“That’s who we are,” Addazio said about the rushing game. “We need to be able to do that. That’s our identity. That’s important to be able to get [Pierce], [Brown], and everybody involved in the run game.”

Senior cornerback Kee-ayre Griffin had a standout game on defense. Griffin had four tackles to go along with a sack and a blocked field goal.

This marked the second consecutive week that the Owls shut out their opponent. The Owls beat Ball State 42-0 last week. The Cherry and White have outscored their opponents 76-0 in their last two games.

“I feel like we’re back on track,” Addazio said. “But being back on track only gives you an opportunity for this week. It’s a whole new week.”

Special teams prove explosive

On Saturday’s matchup against Buffalo, the Owls proved the age-old adage that special teams make up the third phase of football.

On special teams, the Owls had a blocked field goal, a fake-punt touchdown and outstanding play the whole game from junior placekicker Brandon McManus.

“Those are explosives,” coach Steve Addazio said. “In our plan to win, we measure special teams in how many explosives we have. Those are big plays, block a field goal, hit a fake punt like that. Those things get right on an opposing team, and when you’re on the other side of that, it’s hard.”

McManus handles both placekicking and punting responsibilities on special teams. McManus, who kicked and punted at North Penn High School, is 8-12 this year kicking field goals and has a 48.3-yard average on 20 punts. On a windy day at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday with gusts up to 30 mph, McManus was a perfect 2-2 in field goals and had a punt average of 59.3 yards.

“I’ve been here three year, this was the worst wind at Lincoln Financial Field,” McManus said. “It makes you stick to your fundamentals and your technique.”

McManus was quite the sight on kickoffs. Often kicking with the wind, he had a kickoff average of more than 60 yards. On one of the most memorable touchbacks you’ll ever see, McManus boomed a third-quarter kickoff well past 70 yards that was inches away from landing in the stands on the opposite end of the field.

“What we really embrace on special teams is our kickoff team,” McManus said. “It sets the tone for every game.”

When McManus wasn’t pinning the Bulls down into bad field position, other players stepped up to make key plays on special teams.

Junior linebacker Ahkeem Smith made the play of the game in the second quarter when, after the Owls lined up to punt on the Bulls’ 49-yard line, Smith took a direct snap around the edge and ran for a 49-yard fake-punt touchdown. Smith, a former running back who converted to defense in training camp, said special teams and the coaches had that play in their arsenal and were waiting to use it all season.

“I’ve been telling [Addazio] to call it almost every game now, and he finally called it today,” Smith said. “We saw that it was the perfect situation, so we called it before they snapped the ball.”

“I was ready to roll on that one,” Addazio added. “We got the look we wanted and BAM, we’re gone.”
In addition to having four tackles and a sack on defense, senior cornerback Kee-Ayre Griffin made a huge special teams play to preserve the shutout.

After Buffalo drove the ball into Owls’ territory late in the second quarter, the Bulls lined up to kick a 39-yard field goal to try to make it a three-touchdown game before halftime. Griffin rushed around the edge and blocked the kick, the Owls’ fourth blocked kick of the season.

“It’s a big momentum swing,” Griffin said. “We try to make sure special teams is the third phase of the football game. If we control special teams, it’s an extra boost for us.”

The Owls’ success on special teams directly translated to their success on offense and defense. The Owls dominated field position and time of possession. The Owls controlled the ball for 39 of the contest’s 60 minutes, and as a result, both the offensive and defensive units were able to stay fresh throughout the game.

“Special teams is one third of the game,” McManus said. “Special teams always give us a boost on offense and defense.”

“You need to play as a team-offense, defense and special teams,” Addazio added.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Loss not worthy of Big East

If the Owls want to sit at the cool-kid’s table that is the Big East Conference, they have to prove to themselves and the country that they can take care of business in the Mid-American Conference.

Recent reports from various news outlets speculate that, in light of the recent conference re-alignment going on throughout college sports, Temple may be changing homes. The Big East Conference, a perennial basketball powerhouse and former home of Owls’ football, lost Pittsburgh and founding member Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference in September.

It is rumored that Temple is one of the teams on the Big East’s list to replace these two vacancies. Multiple media outlets have reported that Temple is on the verge of an all-sports invite.

In addition to the Owls’ outstanding history in both men and women’s basketball, the recent success of the football team is really what’s driving these rumors. The Owls played football in the Big East starting in 1991 for nearly 15 years, but were asked to leave in 2001 and left in 2004 due to poor attendance and a lack of competitiveness and university commitment to the football program.

But with the relative success of the football program through the first four weeks of the season, including the Owls’ 38-7 blowout win against Maryland last week, many people now believe that Temple football could compete in the Big East.

However, the Owls’ 36-13 loss to Toledo last Saturday told a different story. The team that showed up to play against Toledo didn’t look like the surging mid-major that could compete in the Big East, but rather the team that has never won a MAC championship during its five-year membership.

If the Temple football program really wants to take the next step, it needs to consistently play at a high level in its own conference. Granted, Toledo  is much better than their 2-3 record would indicate, but the majority of the country doesn’t know or care about that.

All that most people will see is some team they’ve never heard of just beat up on Temple in front of their home crowd. How will the loss look to the Big East?

Coach Steve Addazio said that the national attention Temple had been getting after its Maryland win affected preparation coming into Toledo.

“We were concerned this week about our preparation,” Addazio said. “There were some distractions here, but you have to learn how to handle that. That’s my job, to make sure that you overcome that and come out with a great level of execution.”

The home attendance on Saturday was almost as bad as the final score. If I had a vote on Temple’s Big East membership, the attendance of 21,705 on Saturday wouldn’t convince me that Temple can fill the seats for Big East play. Considering the fact that low attendance was one of the things that got Temple kicked out of the Big East in the first place, the two-thirds empty stadium on Saturday just doesn’t look good.

I’m not saying Temple doesn’t deserve to be in the Big East, because I think they are as good a choice for membership as any, but the Toledo game was the first hitch in what was a virtually flawless football résumé for this season.

“One game doesn’t define anything,” Addazio said. “We have to take care of our business one week at a time.”

Moving forward, the Owls have five straight contests to MAC teams. If Temple really wants a Big East invite for football, the Owls have to continue to do their part in their own conference.

Turnovers take Owls out versus Toledo

Coach Steve Addazio has stressed over and over again that you can’t turn the ball over and win.  In the game against Toledo on Saturday, the Owls turned the ball over four times in the Rockets’ 36-13 rout.

“The tale of the game is the turnovers,” Addazio said. “We lost momentum and never seemed to regain it.”

The Toledo offense cut up the Owls’ defense all game as Rockets’ running back senior Morgan Williams and sophomore David Fluellen combined for 255 yards rushing and receiving to go along with three touchdowns.

“It’s just fun to get out there with the other seniors and the other players and make plays,” Williams said. “It’s fun playing football.”

The Rockets’ offensive and defensive lines dominated in the trenches all game. Fluellen and Williams averaged 5.1 and 6.1 yards per carry, respectively, and Owls’ senior-redshirt quarterback Chester Stewart was hurried during the game and sacked twice by the Rockets’ defensive line.

Specifically, the Toledo defense shut down junior running back Bernard Pierce who entered the game with nearly 700 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.

“We knew we had to tackle and gang tackle,” Rockets’ junior defensive end T.J. Fatinikun said. “We heard about all the things [Pierce] had done.”

Despite their overall game woes, the Owls’ offense got off to a fast start. After forcing a Toledo three and out on the Rockets’ first possession, the Owls quickly drove down the field before a 30-yard field goal by Owls’ junior placekicker Brandon McManus gave the Cherry and White a quick lead. The Owls have scored first in four out of their five games so far this season.

“We came out of the blocks pretty quick, and that felt great,” Addazio said.

But two costly Temple turnovers allowed Toledo to erase the Owls’ lead as quickly as they gained it.

After Temple forced a second-straight Toledo three and out, junior punt returner Matt Brown fumbled the punt and the Rockets took over within striking distance. Three plays later Rockets’ junior quarterback Austin Dantin rushed up the middle for a touchdown and a Toledo lead. After the game, both Addazio and several Temple players pointed to Brown’s fumble as a crucial turning point.

“As leaders we try to keep our guys up, but it is definitely a momentum swing for them to get a short field and quick score,” Stewart said. “That hurts a team and is hard to come back from.”

“It’s one play,” Addazio added. “It seemed like momentum got away from us at that point, and that was awful early for that to happen.”

Stewart threw a pass, intercepted by Rockets’ sophomore safety Ross Madison and returned to the Temple 41-yard line, towards the end of the first quarter that lead to another quick Toledo score. The Cherry and White defense were unable to overcome the short field position as Williams burst through the Owls’ defense for a 32-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive.

“When you turn the ball over, you lose possessions,” Addazio said. “That momentum jerked on us right there, and we didn’t get that back.”

The Owls battled back in the second quarter facing a 12-point deficit. Stewart passed to senior tight end Evan Rodriguez on the first play of the quarter for a 55-yard touchdown. After forcing a Toledo punt, the Owls drove into the Rockets’ territory on their next possession. McManus’ second field goal of the day, a 37-yarder, brought the Owls to within three points.

But some Rockets’ trickery along with a costly Owls’ penalty gave Toledo a nine-point lead before halftime. A 15-yard penalty against Owls’ sophomore defensive tackle Levi Brown on the Rockets’ second drive of the second quarter preceded a reverse pass to Rockets’ redshirt-freshman backup quarterback Dwight Macon that went for 33 yards and a Toledo touchdown.

“We didn’t stop them,” senior defensive end Adrian Robinson said. “As a captain and as a leader, I will make sure everything is fixed.”

The Owls drove into Rockets’ territory as the first half ended, but McManus missed a 46-yard field goal in the last minute. Toledo entered halftime with a nine-point lead after scoring fifteen points off turnovers.

“You can’t turn the ball over,” Addazio said. “We turned it over four times.”

Toledo refused to let the Owls come back early in the third quarter. After forcing Temple to punt on their first third-quarter possession, the Rockets executed a methodic eight play, 58-yard drive that resulted in a 20-yard touchdown pass to Fluellen that gave Toledo a 16-point lead.

“They were a great team,” Owls’ senior safety Kevin Kroboth said. “Their record doesn’t show how good they are. They have some really good players that know how to make people miss.”

The Owls’ offense couldn’t get anything going in the second half. After back-to-back three and outs on their first two possessions, the Owls turned the ball over for the third time on their third drive. Pierce fumbled after gaining 33 yards on a screen and the ball was recovered by Toledo and ruined any chance of the Owls scoring in the third quarter.

“The turnover on the screen play that brought us back to the plus side of the field really hurt us,” Addazio said. “That was our opportunity to try to tilt back the momentum. It didn’t happen.”

Toledo sealed their win in the fourth quarter with Fluellen’s second touchdown of the game, a one-yard run after his 43-yard screen, that gave the Rockets a 23-point lead with a little more than ten minutes left to play that would stand as the game’s final score.

“They were more ready to play than we were,” Stewart said. “They wanted it more, they came ready to play and they took it.”

Stewart’s second interception of the game, picked off by Rockets’ sophomore defensive end Jayrone Elliott, was the Owls’ fourth turnover. Overall, the turnovers crippled any chance of a Cherry and White offensive rhythm and Toledo scored fifteen points off turnovers.

“We didn’t come out and play like we usually play,” Robinson said. “I keep hearing questions about them, but it’s us that messed up. We didn’t do what we needed to do and that’s why they beat us.”