Temple Tops Richmond, Loses Eric for Season

Temple Tops Richmond, Loses Eric for Season

The Temple University Basketball Owls announced in a game time press release Thursday evening that starting center Michael Eric will miss the remainder of his Junior season with a fractured right patella. Junior guard and leading scorer Ramone Moore informed all interested parties after the team's 73-53 win over Richmond that the injury was sustained after a "freak accident" during a relatively light practice on Tuesday. The team was informed of Eric's status Wednesday.

A breakdown of the Richmond victory and the Owl's new rotation after the jump...

Temple shot an outrageous 55.6% from the floor Thursday night, while holding Richmond to a shade under 40. Leading scorers Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez posted a combined 19-25 shooting. Even more impressive, Fernandez' only miss of the night came as a result of desperation three in an attempt to stave off an expiring shot clock.

No, he was not the Argentine Christian Laettner against Richmond, but one hopes that this break out performance will, indeed, break him out of the shooting funk he's been in since injuring his knee at the beginning of A10 play. Sitting alongside Moore in the post-game presser, Fernandez offered the following on what the performance meant to him given his recent struggles:

"I've been trying to get my confidence back for both my teammates and my coaches, and luckily for me, personally, it was a good game. But, most importantly, it was a good team win...I don't want to think about myself, I want to think about the team, and how to step my game up to help everybody else and to help us win."

20 points on 9 of 10 shooting preceded by a performance at Dayton featuring nine assists and zero turnovers is definitely what I would call "stepping up your game."

Outside Juan's play and the team's other gawdy totals, Temple's real advantage came, and oddly enough without their tallest player, down low. Though they only out-rebounded Richmond by a margin of 5 (33-28), Temple scored 18 of their 38 first half points in the paint.  Nine more came in the form of converted second chance opportunities.

A nine point lead at the half grew to as much as 21 on the back of a 16-0 Temple run early in the second, when Temple's perimeter shooting, defensive pressure and ability to get out in transition all seemed to gel at once.

"I said to the guys at halftime, 'last week against Fordham, we had a big lead and they came back,'" said Moore, who's taken over the reigns as Temple's on-court vocal leader this season. "'Let's keep that in the back of our minds and not let that happen,' and we were able to match their run [at the beginning of the second] and have one of our own and increase that lead again."

Before closing the book on Thursday and moving on to life without the man in the middle, two quick notes on the final score:

  1. The result of this game in no way reflects the talent level of the Richmond Spiders. Kevin Anderson is an elite guard, and the substantially improved play of big men Justin Harper and Dan Geriot makes Richmond a veteran team Temple fans shouldn't be too eager to see again. The Owls are not going to shoot that well every night, and Richmond won't go quietly a second time. Chalk this is up as unexpected rolling and don't take it for granted.
  2. Though Juan and Ramone received most of the attention above, every single member of the team contributed at both ends. It was a far more balanced effort in person than on paper. And it is exactly this sort of cohesive team play leads us to...

How life without Michael Eric, despite said cohesion, is going to be a challenge for Temple. With Craig Williams out, in all likelihood, for the remainder of the year and Freshman Anthony Lee wearing a medical red shirt, Lavoy Allen is the only traditional big left on the squad. Granted, Sophomore Rahlir Jefferson is insanely long, but he is still only 6'6.

The obvious counter-argument to Eric's influence goes something like this: "Well, wait, Temple just rolled one the three best teams in the A10 without Eric and he has only averaged 7.1 PPG in 20 minutes. It's not like he was eating 30+ minutes or boarding and scoring in double figures every night. What's the big deal?"

The big deal, fictional debater, is that Temple is now completely out of options in tight situations. If at any point Lavoy finds the same kind of foul trouble he did early in the year, then Temple will be forced to play a three (probably, in honest, four) guard line-up with Jefferson as the center. Also checking in at 6'6, Junior Scootie Randall, Temple's best perimeter defender, will fill in on the opposite block at power forward. This also assumes, by the way, that Rhalir is able to stay on the floor and off the PF sheet himself. If not, you're looking at graduate walk-on Dutch Gaitley as the only meaningful height on the roster. Otherwise, burning 6'10, 190-pound Jimmy McDonald's red shirt becomes the last viable option.

Moreover, don't be so quick to dismiss Eric's contributions on a nightly basis. Mike is the team's leading shot blocker and does well to alter far more shots than a stat sheet can show you. Sure, Temple's small lineup of Wyatt, Fernandez, Moore, Randall and Jefferson (and possibly at any time DiLeo or Brown) is absolutely freakish to watch in the open floor, but a lineup that size, at this level, is bound to prove itself as a gimmick against quality opponents.

When asked after the game what Mike's absence would mean heading forward, coach Dunphy was careful not to minimize the loss of his starting center:

"When these kinds of things happen, the first concern you always have is for the guy," Dunphy said, "and in this case, Mike's such a good man. He's worked hard to get to where he is, so when you get that word that the doctor tells you that you have a fractured patella and you're out for the season, that's pretty devastating for a young guy. You don't worry so much about the team; the team has this resiliency about them. They'll come together and they'll form this support system with one another, and they'll be OK. But you worry about the kid and in this case, we're worried about Mike. He'll be OK, but it's a shame that he has to miss the rest of the season."

The Owls will do their best to adjust to life after Eric with another game this Sunday, this time against the St. Joseph's Hawks. Tip off is set for 4p.m. from inside the Liacouras Center and will be broadcast live on Comcast Sportsnet. For those in attendance, the Temple student body is planning an extra special event in the stands related to SJU's eternally resiliant mascot. It might just be the loudest, sloppiest, most disingenuous "wake" of which you'll ever be apart. Well, unless you're Irish, of course.

Josh Huff's acrobatic kick return touchdown sparks Eagles to win

Josh Huff's acrobatic kick return touchdown sparks Eagles to win

For the first 40 yards of Josh Huff’s kick return touchdown on Sunday, he went untouched.

When he got to the Eagles’ 42-yard line, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was the only guy left in his way.

Huff ran through him.

“Yeah, I can’t let a kicker tackle me,” Huff said. “If he would have tackled me, I really would have been pissed at myself.”

The 170-pound Walsh couldn’t make the tackle and was sent spinning as Huff ran through. Fifty-six yards later, Huff took off from the 2-yard line, flipping into the end zone to give the Eagles their first lead in an eventual 21-10 win over the Vikings (see Instant Replay).

Huff said he knew he was scoring as soon as he saw that he had just the kicker to beat.

With the Eagles’ down 3-0 and with their offense sputtering through the first quarter and change, Huff’s play was a game-changer (see 10 Observations).

“Josh did a great job on the return,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “[Special teams coordinator] Dave Fipp really has those guys ready every single week. You need those things. You need special teams scores.”

After Wendell Smallwood’s kick return touchdown last week, this is the first time in franchise history the Eagles have had kick return touchdowns in back-to-back games. They also have the NFL’s only two kick return touchdowns of the season (see Standout Plays).

“It’s super cool,” Smallwood said. “Now teams have to pick their poison. They can’t go away from one. They can’t say they’re not going to kick to Smallwood, then they kick to Huff and he takes it. I think we’re going to get a lot of teams’ attention.”

Huff also had a role in the Eagles’ offense against the Vikings. He caught four passes for 39 yards, including two that picked up first downs. His 14-yarder in the third helped set up the touchdown that sealed the win for the Eagles.

This season hasn’t been great offensively for Huff. He is clearly the Eagles’ fourth wideout and came into Sunday with just eight catches for 24 yards.

“Obviously, I want to play good on offense, but we have three great guys in front of me,” Huff said. “I’m doing what I can to stay ready and I’m at my best when those guys do need me. At the end of the day, as long as I’m doing my job and as long as I stay ready, today was evident. Whenever they call my number, I’m going to make the most of my opportunities.”

Huff finished off his 98-yard kick return touchdown the same way he finished off his 41-yard receiving touchdown in New England last year: With a flip.

Huff took off from the 2-yard line and did a front flip, landing in the middle in the black end zone on his backside.

“It’s just something that happens,” Huff said. “Everybody says I should have stuck the landing, but I’m not a gymnast.”

Eagles' defense outplays Vikings' top-ranked unit

Eagles' defense outplays Vikings' top-ranked unit

The Eagles’ defense had two challenges on its mind Sunday. First, there was the challenge of outplaying Sam Bradford and the Vikings’ offense. Just as important was the challenge of outplaying the Vikings’ top-ranked defense.

“We wanted to be the better defense out there,” Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said. “We wanted to match their intensity. That was the whole thing. That’s all we talked about — let’s be the best defense out there today. We wanted to make sure we were the most dominating defense in the game.

“We wanted to get more sacks, get more turnovers … that was our whole goal.”

In a clash of two of the NFL’s top defensive units, the Eagles beat the previously undefeated Vikings 21-10 Sunday at the Linc (see Instant Replay).

The Vikings defense was very good. It held the Eagles to 14 offensive points and forced four turnovers, but also had no sacks.

The Eagles’ defense was better. It held the Vikings to 10 offensive points, forced four turnovers and recorded six sacks.

If you watched this game and had to guess which defense is No. 1 in the NFL, you’d guess Eagles.

They were that dominating.

They outplayed the best defense in the game.

“We think we’re the best defense, but they’ve been playing great, and they were the best defense coming in,” Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said. “We knew it would come down to whichever defense played the best.

“You could see that the first quarter. We’d make a play, they’d make a play. But you’ve just got to keep on chopping. After the last two games, we wanted to get back to playing Eagles defense, and I feel like we did that.”

McLeod, linebacker Jordan Hicks, Connor Barwin and Graham led a ferocious defensive effort that saw the Eagles batter former teammate Sam Bradford, who absorbed his first loss as a Viking (see 10 Observations).

The Eagles sacked Bradford six times, intercepted him twice and mauled him snap after snap after snap. By the time the Vikings got in the end zone, with half a minute left, it was already a three-possession game.

Neither team had an offensive play longer than 29 yards.

“We think we’re the No. 1 defense in the league,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We think we can be that and should be that if we go out and play the way we’re supposed to.

“We have to do that every week. But we think we can hang with any defenses out there. And we have a lot of respect for that defense across the field, and we knew we would have to show up for us to even have a chance to be in this game. Because that defense is ranked No. 1 coming into this thing.

“But we also feel we’re the best defense in the league, even though we haven’t played like it. But this is the opportunity you want. On the main stage, you’re coming into our home, and this was our opportunity to face the best defense in the league, and I think we showed our worth.”

The Eagles, who looked nothing like a top defense the last two weeks in losses in Detroit and Washington, improved to 4-2 and dropped the Vikings to 5-1.

Six games in, the Eagles’ defense is allowing just 13.5 points per game. That’s No. 2 in the league, behind only … who else … the Vikings at 12.8 per game.

“For us, it’s a battle of the defenses,” Hicks said. “And we always want to be the best defense on the field and put our team in a position to win.”

Bradford has been sacked more only once in his career, back in 2011 with the Rams, when the Redskins got him seven times.

And after opening the season with no interceptions in four games, the Eagles picked him off twice.

Whatever it takes to get motivated. If it works, it works. And this Eagles' defense was clearly motivated by that No. 1 ranking the Vikings brought to town.

“It motivated everybody,” Fletcher Cox said. “We knew in order to win this game we had to be good up front, and the last two weeks we weren’t very good up front. But we got back to basics and went out and played a physical football game.”

Hicks had 11 tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss and two pass knockdowns in his finest game of the year. McLeod became the first Eagle since Quintin Mikell in 2007 with a sack, forced fumble and interception in the same game and added seven tackles. And Graham picked up his fourth sack to go with five quarterback hurries and a forced fumble (see Standout Plays).

The Eagles got back to the way they played defense the first three games of the season. They’ve now held their opponents to 14 or fewer points in four of six games and won them all. In their two losses, they’ve allowed 24 and 27.

“Pride … call it what you want, we knew we had to play well today,” Hicks said. “This defense has a certain standard, and it doesn’t matter what anybody else does, it matters what we do, and ultimately if we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, we’re going to be a top, top, top defense.

“For me, it’s not about them. It’s about us and what we do.”