Part Two of Our Two-Part Temple-Penn State Primer: On Temple

Part Two of Our Two-Part Temple-Penn State Primer: On Temple

In advance of this weekend's
showdown in Happy Valley between Temple and Penn State (3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN 2), Nick Menta and
our friend and guest-spotter from Examiner.com Kevin McGuire have gotten
together for a two-part preview of this weekend's
matchup.

In Part 1, Nick picked Kevin's brain about the current state
of the Nittany Lions. They'll reverse roles in Part 2 below. And for yet more,
check out Nick's
full game preview here
.

Onto Part 2...

------------------

Kevin McGuire: I suppose I can ask you a similar question to your Navy inquiry.
Temple handled Villanova the way they should have (I would think), but
then threw an egg against Maryland. I tend to give the Owls some credit
for fighting back against the Terps to make
things interesting, but which Temple should we be expecting to see
Saturday, and do they show up for a full game or just a half?

Nick Menta: I'm also going to wimp out and call it somewhere in the middle. They're
obviously not as dominant as they were against FCS Villanova, but
nowhere near as inept as they appeared in the first half against
Maryland, when they gained just 34 yards and turned the
ball over twice.

Temple's second half against the Terps does, as you mentioned, give rise
to some optimism, but playing at home, down 26-3 at the half with
little pressure is different than going into Beaver Stadium. As Addazio
keeps reminding anyone who will listen, his team
is young, and many of them have never played in that kind of
environment.

As for how long they'll last, in 2010 they went about three quarters in a 22-13 loss
(Temple was up 13-9 at the break before losing Bernard Pierce), and did the same last year, losing 14-10
after, again, leading at the half. I'm not
optimistic about the running attack's hopes versus the Penn State front
seven, so Temple may just go as far as its defense will carry it. If
they can stymie McGloin and the revamped passing attack, we could be in
for a long, ugly affair similar to 2011.

Temple's defense has played very well against Penn State in more
recent years, helping to close the gap between the two programs on the
field. With Penn State's new-style offense, who on Temple's defense
steps up to keep that trend continuing?

That defense lost six defensive starters this offseason, and like the
team as a whole, has gotten younger and more inexperienced.

Redshirt freshman middle linebacker Nate D. Smith, the younger brother
of one L.J. Smith, has stepped into the spot vacated by Stephen Johnson,
who led the Owls in tackles with
123 last year. Smith leads the 2012 defense
with 18 total tackles (17 unassisted) and has forced a fumble in each
of his first two games.

More specific to stopping McGloin and the passing attack, senior
defensive end John Yabouty remains one of Temple's best playmakers and
will do his best to create pressure. Over the top, senior safeties
Justin Gildea (pictured above) and Vaughn Carraway will have to provide
support to corners Zamel Johnson and Anthony Robey as they contend with
wide receiver Allen Robinson and his counterparts. It was a secondary that, across the board, did not play well against Maryland.

We know that Bernard Pierce was a key player in the revitalization of
the program, but Matt Brown had a very significant role as well. How
has he now taken over the role as the go-to guy out of the backfield and
how has Montel Harris been fitting in with
his injury issues?

Well he was kind of stunning against Villanova (270 total yards), but
put the ball on the carpet vs. Maryland and continued to struggle before
spraining his ankle. With two weeks of rest, he should be fine.

How's Montel fitting in? ... So far he hasn't. He strained his hamstring late in the
preseason, and had just six touches in the first half versus Villanova,
before taking to the sidelines in sweatpants in the second half of that
game. He did not play at all versus Maryland,
though was warming up on the sidelines when Brown first went down.
Addazio indicated after the game that Harris could have played,
but that the he didn't think it would have been "right."

Two weeks later, but hamstrings are naggy. We'll see.

While Penn State has been struggling on special teams, Temple has
not. North Penn's Brandon McManus has proven to be a pretty solid
special teams player by handling place kicking and punting duties for
the Owls. Too many times we overlook special teams (until
it costs a team a game), but how important is McManus and special teams
in a game like this weekend at Penn State?

Considering the low-scoring nature of the games over the last two years, special teams will be crucial.

Flashback to before Sam Ficken, and Anthony Fera, who left Penn State
this summer for Texas, went 0 for 2 on field goal attempts versus Temple
last year. Then they called on Ficken, and he missed one himself.
They went 0 for 3 as a team. Of course, as
we discussed in Part 1, Penn State's four down territory has evidently
expanded under O'Brien.

Back to the original intent of your question, McManus is invaluable.
He's one of just eight kids in the country who handles all kicking
duties for his team. He has the leg to make the NFL as a kickoff
specialist, if not more.

Again, if this is a long, ugly, struggling game like it has been in the past, then
field position and converted field goals, and therefore McManus, will
be of the utmost importance.

I don't think it is too argumentative that the Penn State game is one
that Temple looks forward to every year, and that beating Penn State
would be a tremendous feat for the program as they continue to improve.
What will it take for this year to finally
be "the year" Temple knocks off their in-state rivals?

Just for reference, the last time Temple beat Penn State was roughly seven weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. So, yeah.

Anyway, we discussed above how Temple keeps getting closer to jumping the hurdle without actually clearing it. Steve Addazio always lists a four-point plan to success for his Owls.

1. Run the football
2. Play great defense
3. Play great special teams
4. Don't turn over the ball

Well, if they run the ball with success, they control clock and shorten
the game. If they play great defense and special teams, those benefits
are obvious. As is the importance of holding onto the football.

Still, there's one component that's missing from the plan, and that's the passing game.

As I mentioned earlier this week
, Temple ran for
just 74 yards last year against Penn State during a season in which they
averaged 265.5 per game (seventh-best in the nation). The Penn State front seven
(and its safety help) that prides itself on stopping
the run.

Temple has to be able to do something to keep the Lions from loading the
box and cheating on the run. Whether its the spread-option, some unorthodoxy,
or some good old-fashioned passing plays, the Owls can't pound their
heads against the Penn State defensive wall
if the run just isn't available.

It's not a certainty, but chances are Temple will have to branch out
just a tad, even if it isn't their strong suit and even if it does open
the door for more mistakes. Conservative play calling didn't work last
year.

We'll see how Addazio and the crew have game-planned for 2012 on Saturday.

Keep up with Kevin and Nick's weekend reports from State
College on
Twitter @KevinOnCFB
and @cnmenta.

*

Follow The700Level
on Facebook

and Twitter.

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Another new feeling for the rebuilding Sixers: The bad loss with no excuse. For at least one and possibly multiple seasons, there was no real such thing as an inexcusable L, because they were so never the favorite going into any game that their excuse could almost always be "the other team was better." But four wins and one transcendent player into this season, the Ballers actually do need an excuse for dropping a home game against a subpar team by double digits. And if they had one last night in their 105-88 loss to the Orlando Magic, they weren't telling the rest of us.

Really, this game couldn't have been teed up much better for Philly: We were home, well-rested after Wednesday's weird-ass cancellation, against a 7-12 team we nearly beat early in the season, who were on the second night of a back-to-back after ceding a tough one to the Grizzlies -- and we had Joel Embiid for up to 28 minutes. If this one was to be a laugher by early in the fourth quarter, you'd almost have to assume that it'd been the Sixers who put it to bed early. 

Instead, the Sixers slumped horribly from the field in the first quarter, missing bunny after bunny and plenty of open jumpers, as they dug themselves a hole they were never quite able to climb out of. Philly kept it manageable and D.J. Augustin and Nik Vucevic caught fire for Orlando in the third quarter, and the game was suddenly in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot territory before we could even process what was happening. 

Of course, you can't blame Embiid for this one. Though JoJo was a little out of sorts defensively on this one -- and personally, I really wish he'd stop trapping five feet outside the arc, it may cause panic in the Magic's ball-handlers but it really seems to compromise our own half-court D -- he still finished with a resounding 25-10-4 with three triples, and for the first time in his young career, 0 turnovers. (I coulda swore I saw at least one, but so says the box score, anyway.) Just another game for the Process, though the Sixers (for some reason) needed him to be immaculate last night, and he was merely phenomenal. 

Less phenomenal were the rest of the Sixers' shooters. Our bench in particular was absolutely putrid, going a combined 0-12 from three, with Nik Stauskas's streak of consecutive games with a three snapped at 15 after his scoreless, 0-6 performance. (Five assists for Sauce, at least.) Jahlil posted a dominant stat line of 16 and 13 (on 8-10 shooting) but was again hapless on defense, ending a team-worst -19 for the night. And Dario Saric's slumping continued with a 1-5 shooting outing with no rebounds or assists, likely his worst game of the season. 

It was a surprisingly listless effort from a team that should have looked much sharper, and the most positive non-Joel-related thing to be said about it is that it's (sort of) nice to finally have expectations high enough to have them let down. It'll be a lot harder for Philly to let down tonight against the Celtics, without JoJo, against a pretty good and mostly healthy Boston team. But that's five losses in a row already for the improving Sixers, and it'd be nice to cut off that streak soon, before it starts threatening double digits -- we could certainly do with being done with those for the forseeable future.

No longer feeling like a rookie, Wendell Smallwood more comfortable as lead back

No longer feeling like a rookie, Wendell Smallwood more comfortable as lead back

As the Eagles prepared to face the Green Bay Packers last week, rookie Wendell Smallwood readied himself for a big role.
 
Then he got just nine carries. 
 
It wasn’t that those carries went elsewhere, it was that the Eagles got away from the run game early in the 27-13 loss to the Packers despite being down one score for most of the game. Ultimately, he had half of the team’s carries. 
 
On Friday, head coach Doug Pederson said the disparity in play-calling didn’t have anything to do with having Smallwood as the lead back instead of Ryan Mathews. 
 
“Not really,” Pederson said. “Again, that's something – when I go back ask evaluate after the game – it's something I have to consider more of: Did I run the ball enough or throw the ball enough or not enough or did I do it too much, one way or the other. 
But no, that did not dispel anything, run or pass.”
 
For the second straight week, Mathews is out with an MCL sprain, which means Smallwood is preparing for a bigger role in the offense again. That could also mean his second career start in as many weeks. 
 
Having gone through this process last week has made this week even easier. 
 
“I think I'm very comfortable, more than I was last week,” Smallwood said. “I kind of knew I was going to have a lead role, kind of thinking about a lot, how to play better and take on the load that I was probably going to get. So this week, I think it was kind of natural for me, not really worrying about it.”
 
Smallwood, who was a fifth-round pick out of West Virginia, has 66 carries for 290 yards and one touchdown this season. Smallwood's average of 4.4 yards per attempt is sixth in the league among rookie with at least 60 carries this season. He also has the most rushing yards of any Eagles rookie since Bryce Brown in 2012. 
 
While the Eagles would probably have preferred to use Mathews more this season, the veteran has played just 53 more snaps than Smallwood. 
 
Does Smallwood even feel like a rookie anymore? 
 
“Nah, definitely not, definitely not,” he said with a smile. “Probably after Week 3 I stopped feeling like a rookie. And guys tell me all the time, 'we need you to play, we don't need you to be a rookie right now.' So kind of forced not to be a rookie.”