UConn travels down to Philadelphia this weekend to take on Temple (Saturday, noon, SNY). The Owls have been a pain in Randy Edsall's ass each of the last two times they've played; in 2007, a last-minute touchdown catch was waived off, preserving UConn's 22-17 victory; in 2008, UConn needed two fourth-quarter field goals and a Donald Brown OT touchdown run to win, 12-9, in the middle of a hurricane.
For Temple-UConn III, Dave from the Temple blog Owlified reached out to us for a Q&A. My answers will be up at his site shortly; check out his answers to my probing questions about Temple below the jump:
1) Bernard Pierce has only rushed for 132 yards combined for the first two games, and the team is averaging less than 3.5 yards per carry. Is this a function of teams keying everything on Pierce, or is the running game a legitimate concern?
There's no excuses for the poor overall play of the running game. Despite Bernard Pierce's head injury at the end of training camp, we have not seen the production we'd like to through the first two games. I heard somewhere that earlier this week that he was even questionable for this game (no longer an issue, he's playing). Obviously I hope that he and Matt Brown, our two headed rushing game, can get the ball rolling and come up big against the Huskies.
The offensive line needs to step their game up as well. This is a group that was praised by experts like Phil Steele during the preseason, but have no shown why they were given that recognition. The passing game needs more time, and we need more of a push to give Pierce and Brown the time to find open holes and make moves.
Yes, I am concerned with the play of the rushing attack. I don't see how this team can score points if we're not gaining anything on the ground. Like I said, I'm hoping that BP blows up one of these days and returns to his freshman form.
2) Chester Stewart has been very accurate (65% completions) and hasn't thrown a pick yet: are you happy with his performance thus far? What are his strengths and weaknesses as a quarterback?
The improvement that Chester has made over his four years with the Owls is pretty obvious. Playing behind some talented quarterbacks in Adam DiMichele and Vaughn Charlton allowed him to be prepared for this season. Chester is a dual threat quarterback, having an extremely strong arm as well as quick feet. If he doesn't see anything in the air he is not afraid to make a move and hopefully gain some yards.
So far I am pretty satisfied with his play. I think that we need to see some more production on the scoreboard and on the stat sheet from the passing game as a whole.
His weaknesses at times seem to be two major things: accuracy and some decision making. He tends to overthrow the long ball sometimes, which has been one of the main reasons that Temple has missed out on open scoring chances. I think though that his accuracy has and will continue to improve as we progress through the year.
As far as decision making, I feel that sometimes (not often, but on occasion) there is miscommunication between Stewart and the snapper, and the Owls blow downs because we have to fall on the ball. Also, I still think that Chester can use more of his mobility when the pocket collapses. There's not always a lot of time to react, but I believe that he has the ability to escape a sack and turn the negative play into positive yards.
3) A key matchup will be Temple's front seven against the UConn running game. How would you rate the Owls' defensive line and linebackers, and how optimistic are you that they can contain Jordan Todman and co.?
The first major position matchup I took interest in as well! I would honestly say that Temple's defensive line could play as well as almost any other group in the country. The pressure that the front four put on the quarterback and ground game really determines how the rest of the group functions.
DT Muhammad Wilkerson and DE Adrian Robinson are two of the top players in the conference, and have performed well in previous games against some major programs. These are the two that the Huskies should be most focused on in my opinion.
The bottom line is that Temple needs to control UCONN's running game, or there's no way we're winning this game. Unless our offense finally gets into a groove and produces consistently and constantly, our defense is going to have to step up and make stops.
4) The last time these two teams played, Temple put out a decent-sized ad campaign for the game ("JUSTICE!", a reference to the controversial finish in 2007.) Is this a game that Temple has had circled on its schedule, either from the player's or the fan's perspective
I don't necessarily think every Temple fan has this game circled for that reason. In my opinion, we have the chance to win our second out-of conference game against a quality Big East opponent. A win this week would only make going into the Penn State game THAT much more exciting (3-0, who would have thought?), but a loss definitely would hurt.
This is the year that we want to prove to those people who said "your wins came against the worst records on your schedule" wrong. Early wins over defending FCS Champion Villanova and MAC Champ Central Michigan are two examples that we can compete with quality teams. We want to do the same against Connecticut, and hopefully come out with a win.
5) Now that you've got two wins - and one MAC victory - in the bank, are Temple fans expecting a MAC championship or bust this season?
The early challenge against Central Michigan is a pretty good sign that this team can be competitive and victorious against some of the better teams in the MAC. We'll have more opportunities as the season progresses to get a better look at how this team ranks (Northern Illinois, Ohio).
Temple fans are expecting a Mid-American Conference Championship. We were one win away from getting to Detroit last year, and with the win over CMU as I said before I think that there are high expectations for this group.
6) Finally, very simply: who wins the game, and why?
I think that this game is really a toss up. Of course I would love to say that the Owls get the upset, but really Connecticut is the toughest game in my opinion of the year thus far. I think that this will be a game that comes down to whoever get get more offensive production rather than which defense outplays the other.
You know, I'll just say that if Temple wins this game it will be by less than a touchdown. 24-21 TU.
Thanks to Dave, and check out my answers (and all other Temple info you might want) over at Owlified.