Temple Survives Central Mich and A Quick Note on Concussions

Temple Survives Central Mich and A Quick Note on Concussions

In front of a considerably smaller crowd than present for last week's Mayor's Cup, the Temple University Football team slugged out an ugly victory over the Central Michigan Chippewas Thursday night in OT. Temple's chances would once again rest on the foot of Owl kicker Brandon McManus, who, after having missed two of his first three kicks wide right, was able to compose himself and split the uprights to end the 13-10 affair.

Temple was the beneficiary of some very lucky late breaks, including a Central Michigan fumble on the last play of regulation and an ill-advised force into the end zone on the opening drive of the extra session, the latter resulting in an Owl interception. From there, Coach Golden ordered up a steady diet of Matt Brown. Three consecutive rushes proved barely enough to gain the first down. Two more short yardage gains and third down to center McManus between the hash marks would close it out.

For those who have been knocking the Bernard Pierce for Heisman campaign, last night really only bolstered your argument. Pierce, who began to look like the Bernard of old after some explosive touches and bulldozing broken tackles in the first half, entered the fourth quarter with a touchdown on 10 rushes for 57 yards and 2 catches for 15 yards. Bernard would finish the game with a TD on 10 rushes for 57 yards and 2 catches for 15 yards. Just so we're clear, Bernard Pierce (yeah, this guy) did not touch the football in the fourth quarter or overtime.

I know the decision to bump him below Brown on the depth chart was due to his inability to practice after experiencing some concussion-like symptoms, but one has to wonder exactly what the problem is now. If he's still hurt or feeling any irregularities with his head, he shouldn't be playing. If he is completely healthy, why is the most talented guy on the team sitting on the bench during the fourth quarter and overtime in a meaningful in-conference match up? I can appreciate the argument that Golden is perhaps limiting his touches early in the season to try to keep him healthy late in the year, but that all goes out the window with the game on the line. I don't really get it myself, any guesses? Update: Owlsports.com is reporting that Bernard's disappearance was caused by a hand injury sustained during the third quarter. No word on the severity of the injury has been released. Hopefully, it isn't serious and his absence was largely precautionary.

(Quick digression: As long as I'm asking for feedback, are there any medical personnel who read the site and can explain to me, and anyone who may be curious, the difference between a concussion and "concussion-like symptoms." Sports fans can attest to the fact that any number of athletes are diagnosed each year with only "concussion-like symptoms," rather than an actual concussion after taking solid shots to the head. I clearly am not a doctor and have almost zero medical expertise outside of the application and removal of band-aids, but it just seems odd that an athlete would experience symptoms usually associated with a concussion without having actually been concussed. Anybody have any knowledge on the matter? Is there a doctor in the house?)

Back to the gridiron, Chester Stewart is...well, let me say this off the bat: I like Chester. I want him to succeed, and, having met him, he seems like a nice enough guy. All I'm saying is that if he keeps teasing Temple fans with some solid play under center only to twice fumble the ball at absolutely huge moments of the game, every member of the student section is going to wind up either prematurely gray, or start drinking more than they already do. Big C's first pass of the night came on a bomb; a 56 yard completion to wide out Rod Streater gave the impression that things were going to be clicking for the Temple offense. And though we proved ineffective once inside the red zone for the majority of the night, Chester's throws were noticeably more steady and on point than the week prior, an exciting sign of some quick growth in his release and timing. 

His actual decisions with the football, however, remain back-breaking. Pierce's touchdown right before half gave the Owls a 7-0 lead with little time left. An almost immediate CMU turnover put the Owls well within range for a Brandon McManus FG to end the half. Going into the break up 10-0 after a largely scoreless opening thirty would have really swung the momentum in Temple's favor. Instead, Chester would cough up the ball with just seconds left to send the Owls into the break up 7. Later, with only 35 ticks on the clock, Stewart attempted to break out of the pocket and scramble out of bounds. This might have been less disastrous if he wasn't holding the ball like a loaf of bread (read: L.J. Smith) in the open field. Failing to wrap up the football resulted in a hard hit and strip that might have cost Temple the game if not for a late Chippewa mental cramp of their own. I'm pulling for you, Chester. I am.

Defensively, DT Muhammad Wilkerson had a huge game and seemed to be in on almost every key tackle. The unit as a whole really deserves recognition on its performance. Bending but not breaking, the Owl D bears ultimate responsibility for the victory. At least we're 2-0, right?

Nick Menta is a TU Senior and the Sports Director of WHIP Temple University Student Run Radio.

Photo by Jazmyne Anderson

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

Several reasons behind Brandon Graham's seemingly sudden emergence

With three sacks in three games, Brandon Graham is off to the fastest start of his career by far, already almost halfway to his career high of 6½. Naturally, the Eagles' defensive end is excited about the production, but not nearly as excited as he was with the defense as a whole after a 34-3 romp over the Steelers on Sunday.

"For us, I was just happy we stayed together, we played together and the outcome was good," Graham said postgame. "Hats off to Pittsburgh because we did a lot of planning for them. We respect them a lot.

"I am just happy to get this win and I am happy in the style we did it."

Graham was one of four Eagles players to bring down Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, marking the first time the seventh-year veteran has recorded at least one sack in three consecutive games. In fact, prior to this season, Graham had never posted a sack in Week 1.

For once, the numbers are taking care of themselves for Graham — although that's not what he's focused on.

"Since I've been here, I've never gotten a sack in the first game, and I've never been consistent," Graham said. "I'm just trying to be the leader, go out there, get W's and be relentless."

There are plenty of explanations for Graham's seemingly sudden emergence.

This is only his second season as a full-time player in the NFL after injuries, then depth conspired to keep the 2010 first-round pick on the bench early in his career. Perhaps all he needed was an opportunity. The switch back to a 4-3 defense and wide-nine front no doubt helped rejuvenate Graham's career as well, allowing him to move from outside linebacker back to his natural position at defensive end and focus on rushing the passer.

With Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith all rotating in at end, Graham is also being kept fresh. Last season, the Eagles lacked the quality reserves to provide many breathers for Barwin and Graham on the outside.

"It's a great feeling because there's no pressure to hurry up and get back out," Graham said. "I feel like everybody is just as good and there's no drop-off when we come out of there.

"It's definitely going to help us later on in the year. It's been helping now."

There are all sorts of schematic reasons why Graham could finally be on his way to a breakout season. This will be his first full season as a starter at D-end in a 4-3, it's the first time since 2012 he's in a wide-nine and the defense no longer has to be worried about being exhausted by Chip Kelly's offense's uptempo approach.

Graham was also blessed with a new addition to his family during the offseason — a baby girl. The 28-year-old admits that changed his perspective as well, making him want to work even harder toward achieving his goals.

"Just the preparation and then the work this offseason, I took it up to another level," Graham said. "I guess because I had a daughter this offseason, everything is kind of viewed a different way for me.

"I know we have a good defense — that helps out a lot, too. I couldn't ask for a better defense right now."

Clearly, those goals are not individually motivated. Graham wants to be part of something great, and with a dominant performance against the Steelers in Week 3, the Eagles and their defense passed a huge test.

"I feel like we improved," Graham said. "We got a lot better. We stopped a good team, a great team, a well-coached team. Our hats off to them because they made us work this week."

Few people were expecting the Eagles to handle a trendy Super Bowl pick the way they did, and Graham actually prefers it that way.

"I hope we still get overlooked because it feels so good when people are talking the way they did," Graham said. "It added a little fuel. We watched a little bit of the TV (Sunday) morning, and they were just saying how [the Steelers] were going to dog us.

"I'm just happy that we came out and did what we were supposed to do, and I hope we stay the underdog because, for us, nobody gave us a chance and we stayed together. If we stay together in here, that's all that matters."

Through three games, the Eagles lead the NFL in fewest points surrendered with a paltry 27 and rank fourth in yards allowed. They're also tied for third with 10 sacks and tied for seventh with six takeaways.

If the defense stays together the way Graham says they have, how far does he think the Eagles go this season?

"I don't know," Graham said. "If we keep playing like that, there is no ceiling."

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Flyers Notes: Promising performances from young defensemen

Flyers Notes: Promising performances from young defensemen

The most impressive thing about the Flyers' 4-0 preseason win over the Islanders on Tuesday night was the play of the their young defense and the outstanding work by the penalty kill.

Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers each gave a strong accounting of themselves while veteran Andrew MacDonald proved why experience helps with some terrific PK work during an extended five-on-three Islanders power play in the third period.

“Overall, they did a good job,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “I look at some of the opportunities we gave up, especially in the second period, we gave up three or four Grade A opportunities that Mase (goalie Steve Mason) was great on, but I put those on our forwards.

“We’re still not into regular-season form on our play without the puck. I thought as a whole, the group of defensemen did a good job and the young guys in there were good tonight.”

Sanheim had strong plays the entire game from the point and picked up two assists (see highlights). He gets the puck quickly on net and joins the play up front.

“It took me a little bit, even in this game,” Sanheim said. “As I play more, I started to jump up more and you start to see my game more. It’s something I want to bring to this next level.”

Provorov logged 21:43 of ice time following nearly 29 minutes at New Jersey. He had 5:17 on the PK. Some of his clears weren’t deep or hard enough, at times, possibly because of fatigue.

He also took a bad boarding hit on Joshua Ho-Sang in the third period that set up an Isles five-on-three power play. It became extended because of a trip call to Myers but MacDonald did yeoman’s work on the extended PK.

Provorov quarterbacks the first-unit man advantage for now until Shayne Gostisbehere joins the crowd. He had some very skillful passes. The Russian can find the seam up the ice on the breakout quickly and had a no-look, hard pass to Nick Cousins in the second period for a quality one-timer on net.

Expect Provorov to handle the second-unit power play during the season, should he make the roster.

The goals
Although the Flyers, using a better NHL lineup, were lacking for offensive chances early against the Isles' "B" squad, they found their way in the final four minutes of the opening period.

First, Dale Weise had one of those pinball goals as a bouncing puck hit a couple of players in the slot, including goalie Chris Gibson, to make it 1-0 during four-on-four play.

That was the Flyers' first goal of preseason in three games. A little more than a minute later, Wayne Simmonds scored off a rebound just as a Flyers power play ended. Simmonds had two goals in the game, including a wrister from the left circle to open the final period.

Smallish (5-foot-7) — but bullish — centerman Andy Miele, a former Hobey Baker Award winner as college hockey’s top player (Miami-Ohio), made it 3-0, out-battling Thomas Hickey for the rebound of Michael Raffl’s shot.

The shield
Simmonds is wearing a visor for the first time. It’s an experiment for now.

“Everyone is all over me about it,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. It wasn’t too bad tonight. The only thing is trying to track pucks in the sky when you are getting the glare from the lights. A little bit of an adjustment."

He said neither his mother nor girlfriend had pushed him as hard to wear the shield as someone else: “Ron Hextall,” he said flatly. “He gave me a call.”

Because of his tenacious play in the slot where sticks are high and pucks are deflected, a shield makes sense.

“Yeah, I think so, being that front guy and doing work on the PK,” he said. “Getting sticks in lanes like that, the game is really fast and pucks get deflected.

“Sometime you don’t know where they’re going and can’t react to that. Obviously, the shield is good for that."

He added he would wear the shield in a fight, too.

“Every time I fight and someone has a shield on, I’m at a disadvantage so I guess this evens it up,” he said.

Loose pucks
Weise did a nice job sticking up for teammates late during a melee after a Ben Holmstrom crosscheck to linemate Nick Cousins. “It was a bad crosscheck and you’re defending your teammates,” he said. “The ref was in the way and I kind of went overtop him. That’s what I’m about. Guys take liberties on my linemates, I’ll stand up for them.” … Matt Read had just 6:54 ice time through two periods. Fourth-liner Boyd Gordon had more ice time there — 9:39 — but Read finished with 13:55 to Gordon’s 13:41. More than half of Gordon’s ice time was on the penalty kill. … Goalie Steve Mason faced some point-blank chances among the first 17 shots he faced and finished with 23-save shutout.