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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pierce named MAC Offensive Player of the Week

For the second time this year, junior running back Bernard Pierce stood atop the Mid-American Conference.

Pierce was named the MAC Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season, it was announced today.

Pierce rushed for 149 yards and a school record five touchdowns on 32 carries in the Owls’ 38-7 blowout of Maryland on Saturday.

Pierce leads the MAC in rushing yards (496) and touchdowns (12) and his touchdown mark also leads the nation through the season’s first four games.

Owls rise in the face of adversity

When faced with adversity, Owls’ football shows its true Cherry and White colors.

After a disappointing loss to Penn State last week, Owls’ junior running back Bernard Pierce set a new school record with five touchdowns en route to the Owls’ 38-7 rout of Maryland last Saturday.

“Our guys were hungry from last week because we let that game slip away from us,” Pierce said. “That was a big game for us, and we just let it go.”

“We had a very tough game last week,” coach Steve Addazio added. “I’m awfully proud of how our kids responded. Their mentality, their attitude, the way they played the game.”

The Owls led the favored Nittany Lions for the first three quarters last week before a fourth-quarter collapse allowed Penn State to come back and win. But the Owls were not going to let that disappointing result affect what happened this weekend against the even more heavily favored Terrapins.

“Our kids felt like we could and should have won that football game,” Addazio said of the Penn State game. “That loss hurt deep to the core, but the ability for them to be steady in the boat and respond, that’s a critical step. That’s the chemistry of a football team.”

“We just wanted to bounce back and see what type of team we had,”  redshirt-senior quarterback Chester Stewart added. “It’s good if your team is able to respond after a loss like that. I think we handled it pretty well.”

To add insult to injury, the Owls were harassed the moment they stepped onto Capital One Field in Maryland. Maryland players allegedly verbally chastised the Owls and did not give them their entire half of the field to warm up. But like the Penn State loss, the Owls were able to take their adversity and channel it into something positive.

“They were booing us a lot, which really motivated us,” Stewart said. “We felt like they didn’t really respect us too much, so we came out with a chip on our shoulders.”

“They were disrespectful to us,” Pierce said. “You gotta come out and want to prove people wrong and that’s what we did as a team.”

Stewart had a virtually flawless performance in his first start of the season. He went a perfect nine for nine passing for 140 yards, added 57 rushing yards, and ran the offense well.

Stewart had his own adversity to overcome, as he was su spended for the first game of the season for violating team rules and watched Owls’ redshirt-junior quarterback Mike Gerardi get the majority of the playing time for the first three games.

“[Stewart] really led our football team today,” Addazio said. “I’m proud of him. He took his opportunity and he ran with it.”

There were also many people, myself included, who questioned Addazio’s decision to start Stewart over Gerardi against the Terps in the first place. But Stewart remained mentally tough.

“It felt good,” Stewart said about his performance. “That was something [Addazio] preached all week was mental toughness.”

“A lot of people had questions about why we were making the move we made,” Addazio said about the quarterback switch. “[Stewart] came out today and answered those.”

Now that the Owls have taken care of the most difficult part of their schedule, their mental toughness will play a huge role in determining how well they’ll fare against both the stronger and weaker opponents remaining in Mid-American Conference play.

“We’re a team that can respond and compete with anybody,” Addazio said.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"We are a team that can respond and compete with anybody."

With his performance today, junior running back Bernard Pierce etched his name deeper into Temple football’s record books.

Pierce scored five touchdowns, a career high and Temple single-game record, en route to the Owls’ 38-7 win over Maryland.

The defense dominated Maryland, which came into the game as the fifty-fifth highest scoring offense in the country. The Owls sacked Terrapins sophomore quarterback Danny O’Brien three times and forced one interception.

The Owls improved to 3-1 on the season while the Terps dropped to 2-2. Pierce’s 12 touchdowns on the season currently leads the nation.

Temple vs. Maryland

The Owls will look to improve their record to 3-1 today versus Maryland.

The Owls will take on the Terps on Capital One Field at Byd Stadium today at 12:30.

The Owls will try to capture their third win of the year after losing to Penn State last week. The Terps will try to improve to 2-1 after dropping last week’s game to West Virginia.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Record draw for Penn State game

If the Owls had been able to hold on and win their game against Penn State on Saturday, the victory would have been viewed by a record audience.

The game, which was televised nationally on ESPN, had a 1.6 national rating. That means the game was aired in approximately 1,610,910 households and was viewed by nearly 2 million people, both Temple football records.

The game was also a record draw at Lincoln Financial Field. The attendance of 57,323 was the second-largest in Temple football history and the student attendance of nearly 11,000 was a Temple record.

The Owls’ next game this Saturday against Maryland will air on ESPN3 in addition to being broadcast on 1210 WPHT-AM.

Switch of QBs dooms Owls

In one of the most important games of the season Saturday against Penn State, coach Steve Addazio made a questionable coaching decision that potentially cost the Owls the game.

Addazio benched redshirt-junior quarterback Mike Gerardi in the second quarter. Until that point, Gerardi had completed four passes for 51 yards and led the team to a touchdown on its first drive of the game. But the Nittany Lions’ defense tightened up after the Cherry and White offense’s fast start and the Owls were forced to punt on their next three possessions.

It was then that Addazio turned to redshirt-senior quarterback Chester Stewart on the Owls’ fifth drive of the game. The move was so confusing that there were questions about whether or not Gerardi had been injured.

Yes, the offense had been stopped on three straight possessions. Yes, Penn State had just tied the game with a touchdown of its own. But there was virtually nothing from Gerardi’s performance until that point that warranted his benching. Addazio pointed to a lack of success in the run game as the reason for the switch.

“We thought if we struggled in the run game against that defensive front, we would go to [Stewart] and start to exercise some spread option,” Addazio said. “I still feel good about that. I think that was the right time to do that.”

But the offense crippled under Stewart. Stewart led the Owls into Nittany Lions’ territory on his first drive, which resulted in a 40-yard field goal by Owls’ junior placekicker Brandon McManus. However, following the field goal, the Cherry and White offense suffered four straight three-and-outs.

Despite Addazio’s intention to run the spread, Stewart’s inability to complete passes downfield rendered the passing game totally fruitless. It destroyed the offense’s ability to be multiple, which allowed Penn State to stack the box and continue to dominate against the run.

“We needed to be able to throw the ball to win that game,” Addazio said. “We needed to be able to get the ball down the field. We did not execute that. It didn’t happen.”

“I thought we were running the ball all right at first,” Gerardi said. “They started stacking the box a little more. It affects the game plan a little bit without the ability to have an effective play action. Ultimately, I think you have to do a better job throwing the ball.”

Perhaps it was the fact that Addazio has such a rich history of success of running the spread at Florida that he thought it would translate at Temple. Perhaps it was the fact that this is Addazio’s first year and he hasn’t witnessed Stewart’s play over the past few years that wasn’t good enough to earn him a starting role in his fifth year with the team. But Addazio’s idea to spread the field with Stewart is puzzling in hindsight.

“We weren’t converting first downs,” Addazio said. “We tried to throw the ball a little bit, to loosen that up a little bit. The power run game was not there at that point.”

But the run game wasn’t even given a chance in the second half. Pierce, who rushed for six touchdowns and nearly 300 yards in his first two games of the season, had only four rushes in the entire second half.

“I don’t care who gets the ball,” said a visibly emotional Pierce after the game. “As long as we can keep scoring I’m fine with it.”

Pierce added that he was the most disappointed he’s felt after a loss in his career, and I can’t help but feel that he wished he could’ve done more, but wasn’t given a chance. Addazio chose to center the offense around Stewart rather than his superstar running back.

“Early, I felt like we had some seams and room to run the ball a little bit, but towards the end I didn’t feel that that much,” Addazio said.

Gerardi came back into the game in the fourth quarter and threw two costly interceptions that allowed the Nittany Lions to come back and win, but I don’t think Penn State should have even been in position to come back in the first place. The Owls had four chances to add to their three-point lead with Stewart at quarterback and failed all four times.

“We should’ve had it,” Pierce said. “We had it and we gave it up.”

Moving forward, Addazio said that whichever quarterback can run the most balanced offense will start in the future. Addazio added that while the loss to Penn State was disappointing, he won’t let it define the season.

“As upset as we are, and with what we know we have to get corrected, it’s my job as the leader of this football team to keep this going positively,” Addazio said. “And that’s we’re gonna do.”

Penn State game to air nationally on ESPN

The Owls’ upcoming football game against Penn State will be broadcast on national television.

The game is set to kick off Saturday at noon on the Owls’ home turf at Lincoln Financial Field. ESPN will broadcast the game live nationally, with Dave LaMont commenting and Ray Bentley providing color analysis.

Saturday’s matchup will represent the sixth meeting between these two teams in the past six years and the second one for the Owls at home.

The Nittany Lions have won all five games in the most recent series and haven’t lost to the Owls since 1941.

Pierce, Owls look to vindicate history with Penn State upset

The last time Owls’ football beat Penn State, current 84-year-old Nittany Lions’ coach Joe Paterno was only 14 years old.

Paterno, the Penn State legend, has ensured that the Owls would not beat the Nittany Lions for as long as he is their coach. Paterno has faced off against the Owls 27 times, going a perfect 27-0.

The Owls will counter with new coach Steve Addazio, who beat Paterno and the Nittany Lions, 37-24, in the Outback Bowl at the end of last season as offensive coordinator for Florida.

Last year, the Owls put up their best performance against the Nittany Lions in nearly three decades. In last season’s game at Beaver Stadium, the Owls lost, 22-13. The nine-point deficit was the closest the Owls have come to beating Penn State since their effort in 1985, when the Owls lost, 27-25.

The Owls lead for the majority of the game last year, including after each of the first two quarters. It was the first time the Owls had ever lead in any game against Penn State since 1993.

Junior running back Bernard Pierce was the highlight for the Owls’ offense in last year’s contest. Pierce scored the Owls’ two touchdowns, but had to leave the game in the third quarter due to injury.

Defensively, the Owls didn’t let Penn State score a touchdown for the first three quarters and forced Nittany Lions’ senior placekicker Collin Wagner to kick a career-high five field goals. It wasn’t until halfway through the fourth quarter that Penn State finally found the end zone and sealed its 36th consecutive victory against the Owls.

If Pierce had stayed healthy for all of last year’s game, who knows what the Owls could have been able to accomplish.

This year represents a much different looking matchup. The Owls’ record stands at 2-0 after two wins against Villanova and the Akron. The Owls sit atop the Mid-American Conference standings with a 1-0 in-conference record.

Penn State is 1-1 and tied for eighth in the Big Ten Conference. After a 41-7 opening week victory over Indiana State, the Nittany Lions lost to No. 3 Alabama, 27-11, on Saturday.

The Owls’ offense returns a host of starters to the Penn State game, including a healthy Pierce, who has rushed for 297 yards and six touchdowns through the first two games of the season.

The Nittany Lions’ defensive line, led by junior defensive tackle Jordan Hill, will have their hands full trying to stop a healthy Pierce. Hill was impressive against Indiana State with five tackles and a fumble recovery. Hill had two tackles, including one for a loss, in last year’s game against the Owls.

Since the Owls lost safety Jaiquawn Jarrett and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson to the National Football League, returning players with increased roles have stepped up for the Cherry and White defense. Senior defensive back Kevin Kroboth leads the team with two interceptions and 10 tackles through the first two games. Senior defensive ends and team captains Adrian Robinson and Morkeith Brown have anchored a dominant defensive line that is tied for second in the nation with 10 sacks.
Robinson and Brown will try to slow down Nittany Lions’ sophomore running back Silas Redd, who has 169 yards rushing and three touchdowns in his first two games.

Much like the Owls, Penn State has been forced to play multiple quarterbacks so far this season. Nittany Lions’ sophomore quarterback Rob Bolden and senior quarterback Matt McGloin have both seen significant time at the head of the offense, but neither have been able to elevate themselves to the role of definite starter.

The Owls have started redshirt-junior quarterback Mike Gerardi in each of the first two games, but redshirt-sophomore Chris Coyer, sophomore Clinton Granger, and senior Chester Stewart have collected reps as well.

The matchup on Saturday is one of the most highly anticipated regular season home games for the Owls since the last time Penn State visited in 2007. The contest may come down to which of the two teams’ unproven quarterbacks can step up and win what promises to be one of the closest games in the series’ recent history.

Pierce named MAC Offensive Player of the Week

It didn’t take long for junior running back Bernard Pierce to make an impact on the Owls’ 2011 season.

Pierce was named the Mid-American Conference Offensive Player of the Week for his effort against Villanova in the Mayor’s Cup last week. Pierce rushed for 147 yards and tied a career high with three touchdowns in the Owls’ dominating 42-7 defeat of the Wildcats.

“The last two years, [my performance in the Mayor's Cup] didn’t really go over,” Pierce said in a teleconference on Friday. “I really think I set the tone for the rest of the season.”

This was the fifth MAC Offensive Player of the Week award of Pierce’s collegiate career.

Pierce and QB's shine in opening game

During the Owls’ preseason training camp, I asked head coach Steve Addazio about the possibility of running a three-headed quarterback system on offense this season.

Addazio’s response was short and dismissive.

“No, I don’t want to do that,” Addazio said.

The ironic thing is that, in the season-opening blowout against Villanova on Thursday, Addazio ended up using three quarterbacks, but not for the reason that I, nor anyone else, could have foreseen.

Redshirt-junior Mike Gerardi impressed as the Owls’ starter. Gerardi finished the game with 235 yards and two touchdowns, but even more notable was the confidence and poise he displayed in the pocket. He took multiple shots downfield (his two touchdown passes went for 35 yards or more) and spread the ball amongst his receivers (five different players had at least one reception). Above all, the offense did not turn the ball over when Gerardi was at the helm.

“I thought [Gerardi] did a great job,” Addazio said. “He managed the game. He was a leader in the huddle. He had confidence. He threw the ball really well. I was proud of him.”

Gerardi was so impressive that the Owls had built a 35-point lead going into the fourth quarter, and Addazio saw fit to bench Gerardi and give redshirt-sophomore Chris Coyer a chance to finish the game at quarterback. Needless to say, Coyer made the most of his opportunity.

In just his third play from scrimmage, Coyer ran a beautiful option fake and scampered straight through the heart of the Villanova defense for a 68-yard touchdown, the first of his collegiate career. With one swift play, Coyer put a nail in the Wildcat’s coffin while simultaneously unhinging the nail in his own coffin, as his chances of being the Owls’ starting quarterback this season seemed buried due to Gerardi’s outstanding play.

“[Coyer] knows everything about the offense, just like the starter would,” Gerardi said. “[Coyer] helps me, I help him. We both make each other better.”

Sophomore Clinton “Juice” Granger, who Addazio has deemed a guy who “you don’t want to be off the field,” took all the snaps at quarterback on the Owls’ final drive of the game. So despite the Owls’ impressive Mayor’s Cup victory, it appears that the quarterback controversy at the head of the Owls’ offense is far from being settled.

“It was a tough call,” Addazio said about the starting quarterback decision. “I thought [Coyer] had a heck of a camp, and you saw he had a heck of a play out there himself. We really think [Granger] has come quite a way as well.”

“What we were really waiting for was to see who could really grab the leadership of this team,” Addazio added. “I thought that they all really grew in that regard. [Gerardi] has had a little bit more experience, and it favored him a little bit.”

The good news is that no matter who starts at quarterback, the Owls offense will continue to be centered upon junior running back Bernard Pierce. Pierce had one of his best efforts of his career Thursday, rushing for 147 yards and tying a career-high with three touchdowns.

“[Pierce] played great,” Gerardi said. “When you’re able to run the ball like he did, it opens up the other things we can do on offense.”

“The last two years, [my performance in the Mayor’s Cup] didn’t really go over,” Pierce said in a teleconference on Friday. “Coming out this year, I really think I set the tone for the rest of the season.”

Pierce showed the burst of his outstanding freshman year, when he rushed for more than 1,400 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. He dominated short-yardage plays and used his speed to consistently get around the edge of the Villanova defensive line.

“He’s as talented as any of the backs that I’ve seen at any of the conferences I’ve been in,” Addazio said.

The quarterback that will continue to run the Owls’ offense remains to be seen, but a healthy Pierce makes that uncomfortable feeling associated with a quarterback controversy fade away.

Football and men's basketball to be broadcast on 1210 WHPT

1210 AM WPHT, the longtime radio home of Temple athletics, have expanded their athletic coverage to incude broadcasts of the entire football and men’s basketball seasons.

“We are excited to be able to not only continue, but strengthen our relationship with WPHT,” Director of Athletics Bill Bradshaw said. “This deal enables fans in the greater Delaware Valley and beyond the ability to follow Temple Athletics on one of the strongest commercial radio stations in the country.”

The multi-year agreement will go into effect this Thursday night when the Owls kick off their football season against the University of Villanova in the Mayor’s Cup at Lincoln Financial Field, and will extend throughout the 2011-12 athletic season.

KYW Newsradio announcer Harry Donahue will do play-by-play for both football and men’s basketball. Former Owls quarterback Steve Joachim will do color analysis for football, while Assistant Athletic Director John Baum will provide color analysis for men’s basketball.

Owls offense forced to adapt to new leadership

sports.FEATUREFirst-year head coach Steve Addazio knows a thing or two about offense.

Previously the offensive coordinator at Florida, Addazio brings to Temple not only a fresh batch of offensive enthusiasm, but also an impressive history of success. Addazio has 15 years of offensive coaching experience at the collegiate Division 1 level, including the last five years at Florida where he helped lead the Gators to national championships in 2007 and 2009. The veteran coach is hoping to harness the success of his past and channel it into another winning season for Owls’ football.

“I don’t know what the past means, all I know is what the present is,” Addazio said. “What I see right now is a group of guys that have responded well to change.”

“This program has been able to rise up from a program that had a hard time winning seasons, to two winning seasons,” Addazio added. “We’re looking for that growth. We’re looking to sustain that kind of movement.”

Per Addazio’s system, each position on offense has undergone a competitive position battle throughout training camp. The most heated battle during the preseason camp was at the head of the offense at quarterback, where five different players had fought for the starter spot.

Redshirt-senior Chester Stewart and redshirt-junior Mike Gerardi both saw significant time as starters last year, but both struggled to protect the ball and neither did enough to secure the starting job. Stewart compiled a 5-2 record as a starter, but threw five interceptions and fumbled seven times. When Gerardi started midway through the season he displayed evidence that he can be a pure passer, as he threw for 1,290 yards and 10 touchdowns in five games. But, Gerardi’s tenure as a starter was tainted by eight interceptions in the team’s final five games as the Owls’ finished the season with a 3-2 record.

“All I have over the other quarterbacks is more experience, but that doesn’t necessarily make me the best quarterback,” Stewart said. “It’s about the team. I’m not really worried about myself. [Addazio] will put the best quarterback out there.”

“You’re never entitled to anything,” Gerardi said. “You always gotta prove yourself, especially at the quarterback position.”

Also, in competition for the starting job is sophomore Clinton Granger, who has been one of the more pleasant surprises throughout training camp. A transfer from Pierce College in Los Angeles, Granger has built a reputation among coaches as a quick learner and has impressed them with his natural ability.

“He’s got a maturity about him,” Addazio said of Granger. “He’s wired right. Where he is now and where he’ll be three days from now will still change because he’s growing at that level.”

Sophomore Chris Coyer and redshirt freshman Connor Reilly have also been competing for reps. The multiplicity of quarterbacks that have impressed at camp combined with the fact that Addazio is yet to name a starter naturally creates the question of the possibility of a multiple-quarterback system. While Addazio has vehemently spoken out against giving more than one quarterback significant time in a given game, he has not ruled out the possibility of bringing a quarterback in off the bench in a wildcat formation or in spread offense situations.

“I don’t want to play two quarterbacks,” Addazio said. “We might have a package for a wildcat. But to play two guys because they’re both kinda doing well? I don’t want to do that.”

Addazio has stated that an official starter won’t be named until the season’s first game against Villanova. However, at training camp Gerardi has taken a majority of the snaps for the first-team offense and Addazio has hinted that Granger would be the most likely candidate to come off the bench and run the wildcat.

“What we’re looking for right now is that ‘it’ factor, more so than that extra completed pass,” Addazio said. “Quite frankly, I’d be okay with either of them right now.”

Running Backs
In contrast to the mercurial atmosphere surrounding the quarterback position, the Owls have a clear-cut view of the 2011 season at running back. It comes in the form of 6-foot, 218-pound junior Bernard Pierce.  Injuries and inconsistency marred his sophomore year and his numbers dropped across the board after an outstanding freshman. Now, injury-free and without the pressure of unfair expectation, Pierce is hoping to maintain his health and return to prime form.

“Last year, I would say I wasn’t as prepared for the season,” Pierce said. “I was caught up in the hype rather than actually getting ready. I just want to prove to myself that I can play a full season.”

“He’s absolutely as talented [if not] more than most all running backs I’ve ever coached,” Addazio said of Pierce.

Junior running back Matt Brown has overcome conflicts with the team in the offseason and will return to the backfield to create an impressive split-back system.

Wide Receivers
At wide receiver, Rod Streater and Joe Jones will retain their starting positions for their senior years. Battling for the third and fourth spots are sophomore Deon Miller and junior C.J. Hammond. Hammond has a chance to play in what could be his first full season as a starter- he missed all of last season with a knee injury.

“This year I have a chip on my shoulder,” Hammond said. “I’m more hungry than ever to get back out there.”

Tight Ends
Senior Evan Rodriguez will regain his starting role at tight end, where he caught 21passes last year. Rodriguez was one of 34 players named nationally to the 2011 John Mackey Award Watch List, which is awarded annually to the most outstanding tight end in college football.

Another tight end competing for reps is senior Matt Balasavage, who played in 10 games last season with four starts. Also competing for playing time at the position will be four sophomores- Cody Booth, Matt Brookhart, Alex Jackson and Chris Parthemore -who all stepped on the field last year.

Offensive Line
New offensive line coach Justin Frye inherits a veteran group with versatility. Six starters return on the offensive line, all whom have started multiple games at different positions. Seniors Derek Dennis and Wayne Tribue will start at guard, junior Martin Wallace and senior Pat Boyle will play at tackle and senior John Palumbo will anchor the line at center.

“I think they’re athletic,” Addazio said of the offensive line. “I think they’re fundamentally pretty good. [Frye] has done a great job with them. I feel great about our first offensive line.”

Once the question at quarterback is solved, this offense potentially has enough talent at running back and wideout to compete with any defense in the Mid-American Conference.  If Addazio’s history of success means anything, 2011 will be another step up for Temple football.
“I think that what is yet to be determined is, are we at the stage where we can take this thing to the next level and that’s going to be determined on the playing field,” Addazio said.