Temple to Visit Ohio with MAC Title Hopes in the Balance; Our Freakishly Long Preview in 9 Sections

Temple to Visit Ohio with MAC Title Hopes in the Balance; Our Freakishly Long Preview in 9 Sections

Make no mistake, this Wednesday's game is the biggest of the season for the Temple Owls, and its against an opponent who has given them more trouble than they would like to remember.

At 5-3 overall and 3-2 within the conference, Temple holds a half-game lead in the MAC East over none other than (the) Ohio University, the team that has twice cost TU a chance at the MAC Championship. Kick off between the Owls and Bobcats is scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday evening (ESPN / 1210 AM).

And now, everything you need to know about Temple and Ohio in nine convenient sections…

(1) The Eternal Question—Bernard Pierce's Injury Status

Temple running back Bernard Pierce has sat out the last two weeks of practice, attempting to heal or, at least, not further harm an ailing hamstring. Though Pierce rushed for over 100 yards and crossed the goal line for a touchdown against Bowling Green, it was clear the he did so while in serious pain. His limp was plainly noticeable and necessitated multiple breaks on the sideline for the all-time Temple point leader.

While Steve Addazio refused to comment during his Friday press conference on whether or not Pierce would be available against Ohio, Keith Pompey was able to catch up with Bernard, who ensured the Owls' Inquirer beat writer that we would in action this Wednesday.

As we wrote over the weekend, playing a complete season has been a goal of Bernard's since training camp. Sustaining multiple injuries in his first two years as an Owl has left the star rusher with a feeling that he has something to prove to himself, his doubters and maybe even some NFL scouts in terms of staying healthy for an entire season.

While it's clear Bernard will play against Ohio, it remains unclear just how effective he'll be, given the kind of injury that seems to always be of the nagging variety.

(2) The Passing Game—Steve Addazio as the anti-Andy Reid
Ever since the loss to Bowling Green—a game in which the Owls threw the ball just 13 times, despite severe setbacks on the ground—Steve Addazio has promised a greater balance in play-calling, especially on first and second downs.

Addazio will be the first to tell you that a high-flying passing game simply isn't what his team is built to do; and, really, there is very little to dispute such a claim. Still, as the Temple fans—and presumably Addazio himself—have already learned twice this year, no matter how good a rushing attack, there's very little that can be done on the ground to break a defense who will stack eight to nine guys in the box.

This team and its quarterback simply cannot handle repeated third and longs. It is an unfortunate shortcoming of a talented football team, but a reality that must nonetheless be mitigated. The team has had success this year throwing on first down, particularly in play-action. Watch for Temple to target tight end Evan Rodriguez early and often. Even as a tight end, Rodriguez leads the team in catches and receiving yards. That statistic is no doubt influenced by Chester's preference for throwing quick underneath routes and not having to open up the offense downfield. Such plays are obviously better suited on first and second down than on third (and long). While Addazio has acknowledged that the passing game could always use more "fine-tuning," he's also maintained that it is "on him" to call a more balanced game, so as to put both the quarterback and the running backs in a better position to be be effective.

(3) The Temple Quarterbacks—"All Hands on Deck"
Continuing on with the passing game, for those of you who have been clambering for different signal caller under center, you might finally get your wish this Wednesday night—it just might not be the quarterback you think.

As this coaching staff seems determined to run the spread, Mike Gerardi has become less and less of an option. Though he is a better passer than Chester Stewart, he lacks the speed to run the formation and provide a secondary rush option. Sophomore Chris Coyer has demonstrated how explosive he can be in taking off from the backfield in limited action this year; though, by his own coach's account, Chris has been just as, if not even more erratic than Chester in his reps in practice. "One ball is going this way, and the next goes the other. There needs to be a greater level of consistency," said Addazio.

That said, the coach did not rule any possibilities on Friday when asked if Coyer would be thrown into the mix as another option. Given some of Chester's own nagging injuries, the coach simply responded, "all hands will be on deck." Coyer has taken two crazy-long quarterback scrambles to the house this year after entering the ballgame in relief of Stewart and Gerardi. While a potential increase in utilization is exciting news for Chris and the offense, if the coach is serious about "all hands being on deck," he might want to remember that he has Mike Gerardi on the bench should his team find itself trailing late and actually need to, you know, throw the ball.

(4) The Ohio Run Defense—[Bobcat D] "ain't Nuttin to F--- wit"

The Bobcats D is allowing only 117 rush yards per game, a total good enough for 27th in the nation. Bear in mind, Pierce and second-string rusher Matt Brown have both run for over 100 yards the last three weeks in a row.

The Bobcats are the second best team in defending the run that the Owls have played this year, and—No—the other team isn't Penn State. It was actually the Toledo Rockets, who are ranked one spot ahead of Ohio at 26th against the run. Suffice it to say, we all remember how that game went for Temple.

This, of course, is why the balance discussed above will prove so vitally important. Bowling Green, a notoriously awful team against the run, showed last week that you can give up over 200 yards rushing to Temple, as long as you keep them pinned back on their side of the 50. Granted, Temple helped the Bowling Green cause by repeatedly Plaxico Burressing itself in the foot with penalties, but that game and this matchup remains worrying. Add Bernard Pierce's uncertain health to the equation and you could see a potential repeat of last week's affair, with each  defense rendering the opposing offense useless.

(5) The MAC Title Implications—Falcons and Bobcats and Owls..Oh My!

As mentioned up top, last week's loss to Bowling Green meant that, for a week, the Owls no longer controlled their own fate. Thankfully, Bowling Green's loss to Kent State means that as long as the Owls take care of thei
r own business over the next four games, they will be on their way to the MAC Title Game in Detroit. Otherwise, they'll need a little bit of help in getting there.

At 2-2 in conference play, the Bobcats are currently tied for second in the East with the Bowling Green. Should Temple drop this game to Ohio, they would not only fall behind the Bobcats in the standings, but they would have lost the head-to-heads with now two other teams vying for the East's bid to Ford Field.

(6) The History—Temple Only Plays Ohio When It Means Something (Something Usually Bad)
Go figure, Temple's hopes of winning the MAC East once again rest on beating Ohio. Losses to the Bobcats have effectively ended this team's hope of making it to the MAC Championship the last two years in a row. All-time, the Owls are just 1-3 against Ohio, having lost the first matchup in 2007, having won the second in 2008, and, finally, having lost the last two in heartbreaking fashion in 2009 and 2010.

(7) The Bobcat Blackout—Ohio's Attempt at Intimidation or Motivation or Something

Keith Pompey reported last week that Ohio will be wearing all-black uniforms and that those fans in attendance will be donning matching black t-shirts. I'm reporting this week that should Temple lose this game, fans on North Broad street will engage in a mass blackout of their own.

(8) The Wednesday Special—ESPN's Infatuation with Mid-Week MAC Games

Temple will play this Wednesday at Ohio and next Wednesday night at home against Miami (OH). Temple played both of these teams back-to-back on Tuesday nights last year, thought Toledo and Northern Illinois appear to filling that spot this year. Yes, it's primetime, yes, it's Wednesday; and, yes, it's the MAC; so, yes, you should take what you can get, because, yes, the game is on ESPN.

(9) The Reason Most of You are Interested—Gambling Lines and Such
Temple opened as a 3.5 point favorite and has since moved to 4, and in some books, 4.5. The over/under for this game has been slow to board. I've seen the number 45 thrown around, but most books have still yet to post.

In the event the over/under is in that ballpark, bear in mind Temple's potential difficulties on offense given the Bobcat run defense and Bernard Pierce's questionable health. Also consider that while Ohio is averaging more than 30 ppg, Temple has given up the second fewest average points per game in the nation in 2011 at 10.0.

Proceed as you will.

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Anyone who wants to get at me during the game can get in touch @cnmenta. Otherwise, see you post-game.

Photos courtesy NCAAGridironGab, Philadelphia Inquirer, Associated Press and Gridiron Tribune

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

CLEVELAND -- Stephen Strasburg shut down Cleveland for seven innings and bounced back from his only loss this season, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday.

Strasburg (14-1) began the season with 13 straight wins before he was beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21. The powerful right-hander shook off that blemish, holding the Indians to only three hits as the Nationals recovered after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and losing on Tuesday night.

Washington rookie Trea Turner drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy hit his 20th homer off Carlos Carrasco (7-4), who nearly matched Strasburg but was done in by one bad inning.

Nationals reliever Blake Treinen stopped Cleveland's threat in the ninth, getting a game-ending double play for his major league save.

Strasburg walked one and struck out seven (see full recap)

Cardinals snap Familia's saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4
NEW YORK -- Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia's streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn't blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker's comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia's franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save (see full recap)

Padres hit 3 HRs to extend streak, beat Blue Jays 8-4
TORONTO -- Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots and the San Diego Padres beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep.

San Diego extended its club-record streak of games with at least one home run to 25. It's the longest run since the 2002 Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight.

Luis Perdomo (5-4) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to win back-to-back starts.

Wallace reached base three times. He was hit by a pitch and scored on Rosales' homer in the third, connected off R.A. Dickey in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the sixth.

Dickerson homered for the fourth time in four games when he connected off Franklin Morales in the eighth. He is first Padres rookie to homer in four straight games.

Dickey (7-12) allowed seven runs, six earned, and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. The knuckleballer is winless in three starts and has allowed six home runs in that span (see full recap).

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”