Temple-Miami (OH): German Pop Cover Band Edition

Temple-Miami (OH): German Pop Cover Band Edition

Those of you who troubled yourselves to watch the WWL's mid-week MAC coverage over the past week and a half will attest to having seen some of the most exciting college football played all season. For as much criticism as the MAC tends to catch—some of which is fair, some of which is unfair—it's entertainment level can be and is no doubt equal to any BCS conference.

You either like watching football, or you like pretending to be "discerning." If you fall into the former camp—if you actually like football—welcome to the Mid-American Conference.

Temple hosts Miami (OH) in a battle of two teams who will both take the field with their seasons on the line. Kick-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. (ESPN / 1210 AM)

How We Got Here:
After an 0-4 start to their season—thanks, in part, to a difficult non-conference schedule featuring (preseason #21) Missouri, Minnesota and Cincinnati—the Miami (OH) Redhawks have won four of their last five and seem to be on the uptick. Temple, meanwhile, is the loser of its last two in a row, losses which may have very well cost the Owls a shot at the MAC Title and even a bowl game.

This evening is a must-win for both teams. By no scenario can Temple win the MAC East at 4-4, while Miami would need a victory over and some serious help from the Ohio Bobcats should they come up short tonight.

Recapping from last week, the Owls best-case MAC scenario features a 5-3 in-conference record and a complete collapse from Ohio. Bowling Green has already done their part by losing to Northern Illinois last evening.

Click here for a full breakdown of Temple's fleeting MAC Title chances. Go Buffalo.

At Quarterback
Temple head coach Steve Addazio confirmed last Friday that Chris Coyer will start under center for the Owls.

Coyer, who was responsible for 307 yards of Temple offense against Ohio—184 yards rushing, 123 receiving—will be making the first start of his college career.

Given the high-rate of success in his first taste of big game action last week, it's clear Coyer isn't the kind of player to become overwhelmed by the situation. His coach has described him as "unflappable," and as an a very even-keeled quarterback, an attitude, Addazio says, that should not be confused with a lack of intensity.

"He's a competitor," says Addazio. "He's a gamer."

After building such high expectations in less than four full quarters of work against Ohio, Coyer needs to find a way to repeat that success. Aside from his cool, calm demeanor, he's also been described by his coach as somewhat of an erratic passer in practice. The question now is whether that will be indicative his performance of the field—throw to throw, series to series, game to game.

Coyer quickly earned himself a great number of supporters with his performance at Ohio. Tonight may go a long way in finding out if those supporters jumped the gun or if the sophomore really is the guy with the immediate ability to lead the Temple offense. The bad news for the sophomore quarterback is that unlike against Ohio, Miami (OH) has had the opportunity to game plan for him and should be able to key on him, especially given the Owls situation at running back.

Bernard Pierce's Concussion
What was an undisclosed "head injury" to star running back Bernard Pierce has now been confirmed as a concussion. Coach Steve Addazio and the rest of the Temple staff make a specific point not to discuss injuries with the media. As such, his status remains unknown at this time and probably will remain so right up to game time.

There's nothing wrong with optimism, but given the way concussions are now being treated, and the fact that there's been very little news regarding his status, it might be imprudent to get your hopes up.

Should Pierce not be able to go, the bulk of the running game will fall on the shoulders of Matt Brown, back-up running back Kenny Harper and, of course, Coyer. With Brown himself battling some nagging injuries and Harper having seen very little time this season, tonight might be really become the "Chris Coyer Show."

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Update: The Inquirer's Keith Pompey is reporting that Matt Brown is currently listed number one on the depth chart, with freshman runner Jaylen Fitzpatrick as his back-up, after he "outperformed Kenny Harper this week at practice."

Fitzpatrick was actually a dual-threat quarterback during his senior of high school, and was converted to wide receiver upon joining the Owls. After nine games with the Owls, Fitzpatrick has a combined total of zero touches on the football. Addazio must have really liked what he saw in practice.

Obviously, this neither guarantees him reps nor precludes Harper from carrying the ball, it's just another testament to Steve Addazio not wanting anyone to get to comfortable in their spot when he has, in his estimation, "a lot of talent" up and down the roster.

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Is Miami for Real?
Good question. Wish I could answer it. Yes, they are winners of four of their last five, but those wins come against teams with a combined record of 9-27.

They've won the games they should have and lost the games in which they've been challenged. Tonight is as big for them as it is for Temple. Whether they're "for real" or not, expect them to be as hungry, if not even hungrier than the Owls.

Mandatory Pop Culture Education
I've done what I could to include as many musical guests as possible over the course of the season. Admittedly, I haven't always kept up with the theme, but I've tried to work them in when possible.

In consideration of the fact that I've had to repeatedly type "(OH)" after "Miami," I've begun to think of the city as somewhat like a cover band for the real Miami.

Accordingly, I present to you "The Baseballs"—a German pop cover band, who takes a whole mess of songs you wouldn't ordinarily associate with one another and tries to make it all sound like the Beach Boys.

And now, Will Smith! ...sort of:

See you post-game.

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers began the season looking lost without Joel Embiid. Now they are finding ways to win when he is not on the court. 

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion in the second half of Friday’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see story). He was sidelined for the decisive 8:50 of the game (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers trailed, 81-78, when he subbed out for the second time because of the injury, and outscored the Trail Blazers, 15-11, from that point on.

So how was this team that battled with inconsistency and reliance on Embiid able to pull out a comeback win punctuated in the final seconds? Ask the Sixers and they’ll give varying answers, a sign they are getting the job done in multiple ways and aren’t relying on just one key to success.

The most glaring difference was the hero of the game. Robert Covington drained two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds. His trey from Dario Saric with 38.2 remaining cut the Trail Blazers' lead to just one, 91-90. With 4.5 to go, he nailed the game-winning three from T.J. McConnell to give the Sixers their eighth victory in 10 games (see feature highlight).

“That’s resilient Cov,” Nerlens Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot; he’ll pull it in your face. That’s the confidence he has and that’s the confidence we need him to have. He steps up and makes two big shots like that, that’s enough said. He won us that game.”

Critics have called out Covington’s up-and-down performance from three all season. (They’ve made their feelings known with loud boos at home games.) Covington shot 5 for 12 behind the arc on the night but his 2 for 3 performance in the fourth was what mattered most. 

“I am a fighter, that’s what I have been my whole life,” he said. “Just because fans are booing me at one point doesn't mean anything. I just keep working. I am not going to let that deteriorate my game. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

Without Embiid in the game, the Sixers had to rely on a total team effort. After he went to the bench, the final points were scored by a combination of Covington, Gerald Henderson, Noel, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and McConnell.

“Ball movement,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We had 25 assists out of 36 made baskets. It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard (guard for the Blazers). That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. They did that. Unlikely people ended up with the ball sometimes in unlikely spots. … You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Several of the players on the court in critical moments were from the second unit. Since Brown locked in on his rotation, the reserves don’t have a drop-off in confidence from the starters. 

“It’s the mentality,” Covington said. “Everybody has that swagger about us right now because once Joel comes out, the next person steps in and fills that void. It’s a matter of that contagious feeling that trickles into the second unit that’s making us that much more valuable.”

Then there's always defense, the foundation of any solid NBA team and a focal point for the Sixers. Noel saw that as the difference-maker when subbing in and out. The Trail Blazers scored just two points in the final 1:56. 

"The second unit goes there and does a great job guarding the yard, not letting up easy baskets," Noel said. "The offensive side is fluid motion. Guys get shots, pick-and-roll, it opens up open threes for guys, driving lines, pump fakes, it’s a great unity."

Embiid liked what he saw from a distance. He will not travel with the team to their game on Saturday against the Hawks in Atlanta. 

"I’m just happy we’ve been closing out games, and the main thing I’m really happy [about] is they’ve been able to do it without me," he said. "That’s going to give us a lot of confidence when I’m missing back-to-backs. My teammates are going to have more confidence to come in and play the same way."

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”