Temple's Passing Game Exposed in 13-10 Loss to Bowling Green

Temple's Passing Game Exposed in 13-10 Loss to Bowling Green

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.

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

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

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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.”