The 2011 Temple Owls have proven to be fantastic frontrunners. They've also proven to be absolutely dreadful when playing from behind. Against Bowling Green on Saturday, the Owls' No. 1 flaw was fully exposed: they have an inability to throw the football.
Despite giving up over 100 yards to both Bernard Pierce and Matt Brown, the Bowling Green defense did what was most important by keeping those backs out of the end zone. And though Temple did rip off 217 yards on the ground, too many of the yards in that total were picked up on the wrong side of the 50-yard line.
Bowling Green stacked the box against the Owls and shut down the run for better part of the ball game. Yes, Pierce went over the century mark and finished with a yards per carry of 6.2 for the game, but far too few of his gains could be characterized as meaningful. As the day went on, it became clear that the junior running back was hampered by some sort of leg injury, possibly to his hamstring. Though he would gut it out as best he could, scoring a TD and continuing to run hard despite a considerable limp, it wouldn't be enough against a Bowling Green team content to let Temple run the ball.
Under center, Chester Stewart registered just 13 passing attempts. In a game where running ball clearly wasn't enough, the pass just never seemed an option. When asked to engineer drives late in the game, Stewart looked out of his element, making poor decisions and worse throws.
Sure, Stewart has been impressive simply managing the game when Temple has had success running the football, but Saturday was a reminder that he lacks the skills to do much more. Temple needed to pass the ball more than 13 times. The fact that it didn't appears to point to a lack of confidence in Stewart.
If such is the case—if Temple needs to pass the football because the running game isn't getting it done—then Mike Gerardi has to come into the ball game. Let's be clear, the junior quarterback is no savior, he's simply a better passer than Stewart. What happened on Saturday was plainly unacceptable, and it's maddening to see the the coaching staff refuse to throw the ball because they lack the faith that their quarterback—or perhaps quarterbacks—can get the job done.
When the offense did break some plays down the field, they were all too often brought back by penalties. Temple was flagged 12 times versus the Falcons for a total of 97 yards. Nearly every play broken by the Owls for a big gain was squashed by an infraction. Be sure, the penalties did play a role, but they weren't the whole story.
Coach Steve Addazio can defend his play calling and blame those penalties if he likes—he wouldn't be totally wrong to do so—but it won't change the fact that Temple refused to throw the football when it needed to most. If it's due to a lack of confidence in Stewart, then other options—Mike Gerardi, Chris Coyer—must be explored. If it's rooted in stubbornness and a refusal to change the play-calling relative to the situation, that needs to be fixed as well. But if the coaching staff's refusal to open up the offense is generated from a lack of confidence in any of the passers on the roster, then the 2011 Temple Owls are simply a flawed football team.
With that said, while Saturday's loss certainly exposes Temple's weaknesses, it hardly dooms the season. Likewise, it says absolutely nothing about whether the team is somehow worthy or unworthy to play in another conference. It's just a loss they could have—and should have—done without.
Since training camp, both Addazio and his players have asserted and reasserted that their chief goal is to win the MAC championship. Leading the Eastern division at 3-2, they're still right on track to accomplish that goal. But the road to reach the 2011 MAC title game is now a little harder; and that, by itself, is plenty bad enough.