After two years of last-second, nail biting, hysterics at the Mayor's Cup, the 2011 Temple Owls opted to make the game far less stressful for everyone involved, rolling the Villanova Wildcats by a final score of 42-7.
Struggling to fill the voids left by a plethora of 2010 graduates, the young Wildcats failed to give the Owls the same challenge as their 2009-2010 predecessors.
Though many of the Villanova underclassmen displayed talent, nearly every opportunity for optimism was immediately squashed by an untimely penalty or turnover. It was a long night that grew only longer for coach Andy Talley and company, as the Wildcats continually forfeited the ball to a Temple offense they couldn't stop.
Named immediately prior to kick off as the Temple starter, quarterback Mike Gerardi looked sharp early, going 3 for 3 for 55-yards on the Owls opening drive. He would connect with Deon Miller on 35-yard crossing pattern to put Temple ahead by a score of 7-0 mid-way through the first quarter.
And while the it's true that Gerardi and the quarterbacks were the main story leading into Thursday night's contest, it was ultimately running back Bernard Pierce who would, in his typical fashion, become the absolute center of attention.
Following Gerardi's strike to Miller, Pierce dominated the remainder of the half, rushing for 116-yards and 2 TDs in the opening thirty. His first score came on a 19-yard run through the line during which he went nearly untouched into the end zone. He ran similarly unobstructed on his second TD, a 22-yard stretch to the right that would put the Owls ahead 21-0 at the middle mark.
Then finding just enough room down the sideline to score his third touchdown of the contest, Pierce would earn an early end to his night. In just three quarters of work, Bernard would finish with 147-yards on 20 attempts, a performance good enough to move the junior into fourth all-time amongst Temple's career rushing leaders, just ahead of Henry Hynoski's 1972-1974 total of 2,089 yards.
As for the rest of the offense—specifically the man under center—junior Mike Gerardi looked plenty impressive for a guy who had previously been caught in a three-way quarterback competition.
In spite of the two drops for which he was clearly not at fault, Gerardi completed 14-20 attempts for 235-yards passing and 2 TDs. The second touchdown, a 47-yard lob to a streaking Rod Streater, was an especially noticeable show of both confidence and ability.
When asked what ultimately separated the Gerardi from sophomore Chris Coyer in the days leading up to the game, head coach Steve Addazio spoke of the quarterback's "growing leadership in the huddle," a leadership certainly aided by his experience as a starter at the end of 2010.
And it was exactly that brand of the leadership Villanova so sorely missed against the Owls.
Over on the opposite sideline, leading the huddle for the Wildcats, QB Dustin Thomas took some tough lumps Thursday night. Facing Temple's talented pass rush behind an inexperienced offensive line, Thomas spent a good deal of the evening on the run, resulting in three thrown picks and forced fumble.
Still, the redshirt freshman would continue to battle throughout the game, finally finding the end zone on a short-yardage scramble with eight minutes left to play. It would prove Villanova's first and only touchdown of the evening.
One quick injury note for the Wildcats, wide out Norman White will be forced to sit out the entirety 2011 season due to a lisfranc injury of his left foot. White will receive a medical redshirt and is expected to return in 2012 to complete his eligibility as a fifth-year senior.
Finally, before wrapping up, it would be regrettable not to discuss the attendance figures. The announced crowd of 32,638 just edges last year's total of 32,193 as the second largest crowd to ever attend a Temple football game at Lincoln Financial Field. In just another two weeks, we can guarantee Thursday night's crowd will drop to third in the record books.
Either way, the game's atmosphere should be considered a success for the state of college football in Philadelphia. As coach current head coach and former SEC coordinator Steve Addazio said to begin his post-game press conference, "Major college football culture is here in Philadelphia…[Tonight] was a great for Philadelphia and a great night for Temple."
But, hey, even we could have told you that.
Up next for the two programs, Temple will be back in action next Saturday when they travel to Ohio to take on the Akron Zips; Villanova will also be on the road, heading south to battle Towson. The games are scheduled for 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively, with the Temple-Akron match up available for viewing on ESPN 3.
In the meantime, keep on the look out for some additional Penn State coverage in the coming days. The Nittany Lions open their season versus Indiana State this Saturday at 12 p.m. As of this writing, PSU has not yet named a starting quarterback. We'll keep you posted.
College football is back. Start chanting.