Saturday, September 27, 2008

Temple lets another one slip away

Philadelphia, PA (The Phanatic Magazine) - Think Temple is unlucky?

You may have a point.

For the third time in four weeks, Al Golden’s bunch let one slip away when Western Michigan (4-1, 2-0 MAC) topped the Owls (1-4, 0-2), 7-3.

The Owls have now let an undefeated UConn team off the hook in their home opener and were beaten by Buffalo on a last second Hail Mary play. Then, star quarterback Adam DiMichele separated his shoulder in the first quarter against Penn State and today, the Temple defense held a team averaging over 36 points a game coming into the contest to just seven points.

A 4-1 start and dreams of a bowl appearance are already out the window.

But, that’s nothing compared to scheduling homecoming when the Phillies are trying to capture the NL East and the Flyers are closing down the Spectrum across the street.

There was a sea of humanity down at the sports complex Saturday almost like Philadelphia was finally hosting a big time college football game, except very few members of that sea were trying to fight their way into the Linc.

A sparse crowd of 10,000 or so saw the starting debut of redshirt freshman Chester Stewart at quarterback for the Owls. In his first significant action against the Nits, Stewart finished 16-for-30 passing for 116 yards and three interceptions. Hardly an auspicious debut but after Oregon State stunned No. 1 USC, maybe Penn State is a lot better than we all thought.

The MAC and Western Michigan would prove to a better barometer of Stewart’s skills.

A great athlete with excellent size, Stewart, who led DeMatha Catholic in Maryland (Brian Westbrook’s high school) to a 12-0 record as a senior, is clearly the future at Temple and quickly passed junior Vaughn Charlton on the depth chart. Golden envisions a signal caller that can move the chains with his arm and his legs in a spread offense.

But, Stewart is just not ready and was woefully inaccurate during the game turning the Owls offense one-dimensional. He finished just 10-of-20 for 60 yards and added another 29 yards rushing.

"I think he did alright. It's his first time out there," Golden said. "I think they knew it too and did a lot of things to confuse him. I think he's a good talent. I think early in the first quarter he managed the game extremely well."

It was Stewart’s legs that moved Temple into field goal position on the opening drive of the game and junior kicker Jake Brownell converted, booting a 45-yarder with just over nine minutes left in the first quarter.

Defense took over from there and Temple would not score again.

Western Michigan adjusted and crowed the line of scrimmage, taking away the Owls running game, while Temple made some big plays including a Jamal Schulters interception off a deflected pass.

Stewart didn’t complete a pass until the 12:01 mark in the second quarter and penalties haunted the Owls. A defensive holding call on Alex Joseph erased a Dominique Harris interception that would have given Temple the ball inside the Broncos five-yard line. Later, a holding call on Travis Shelton negated a James Nixon 50-yard TD run.

"I'm stuck as a coach on what to do about these penalties," Golden said." I've never seen this amount of penalties. It more than it was a year ago, and we are a year older, a year more mature and it's just been hard. The timing of the penalties has been destructive. Execution. It still comes down to execution."

Still, the Owls had a chance to extend their advantage when Nixon broke off a 43-yard run late in the first half but Stewart took a bad sack on the next play and Brownell was eventually wide right from 39 yards out.

Western Michigan and its quarterback Tim Hiller finally got going in the waning seconds of the half. Hiller picked apart a soft zone before stalling at the five-yard line. John Potter came on from there and missed the 24-yard bunny with five seconds in the half.

The offensive ineptitude continued deep into the third quarter until Temple defense finally broke. The Broncos were helped by an illegal substitution penalty, the Owls second of the day, en route to a nine-play, 77-yard TD drive. Hiller found Juan Nunez behind a dropped coverage down the left sideline for a 30-yard TD with just over two minutes left in the third quarter to give Western Michigan a 7-3 edge.

"It just seemed to me like we got beat," Golden said. "The kid made a great throw and catch. It's a shame, because if you eliminate that explosive play, it's a different game."

The Owls had a chance to go back on top in the fourth quarter after a great punt return by Delano Green. But, Stewart threw a one-hopper to a wide open Bruce Francis in the end zone. To make matter worse, Brownell clanged his ensuing field goal attempt off the right upright and Temple still trailed 7-3 with about 10 minutes to go.

The Owls defense proved to be resilient and put the ball back into the hands of Stewart but the freshman proved to be too inaccurate to move the ball consistently.

A great Jeff Wathne punt pinned the Broncos at their own four-yard line with just over four minutes left but a 18-yard Brandon West run got Western Michigan out of trouble. Just when the Temple defense looked like it was out of gas, Schulters forced a West fumble that Jaiquawn Jarrett recovered at the Broncos 39 with 2 ½ minutes remaining.

Stewart quickly put himself behind the 8-ball by taking a delay of game penalty before running the first play of the series. Two incompletions later, a screen netted two yards and Temple faced a 4th-and-13 with 2:10 remaining. After a timeout, Stewart badly overthrew his intended receiver deep down the right sideline, securing things for Western Michigan.

"I think the biggest thing with Chester is chemistry," Francis said. "I mean, we were playing with Adam (DiMichele) so long and Vaughn (Charlton) last season. It's tough for a guy like Chester, a freshman, to come into a game like that. It's a lot different than practice, the pace is a lot different, where Adam had that chemistry and knows how to throw it to us. I have tremendous confidence in Chester, we just need to work with him."

Nixon led Temple with 53 yards rushing, while Joseph paced the defense with seven tackles, including two for a loss.

Hiller completed 26-of-42 passes for 252 yards with a TD and an interception for Western Michigan.

Owl Droppings: Stewart was just 2-of-6 passing for four yards in the first half...The Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets both had scouts on hand...

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