October 15, 2009

Army vs Temple: 5 Burning Questions

Army takes to the road this Saturday to battle the Temple Owls at Lincoln
Financial Field, in Philadelphia, PA.  Both teams enter the game at critical
points in the 2009 season.  Army is 3-3, coming off a thrilling 16-13 overtime
win at home against Vanderbilt, and Temple is riding a three game winning
streak, putting them 3-0 in the MAC and 3-2 overall.  Both teams still have
their early season goals in site and are looking to open up the doors on the way
to a bowl game with a win on Saturday. GoBlackKnights.com had an opportunity to
catch up with Mike Mastrangelo and Kyle Gauss of OwlScoop.com, the Temple
rivals.com site.  They answered our five burning questions we had about the game
from his perspective.

GoBlackKnights.com:  After two difficult losses to start the
season, Temple has recovered well and is on a three game winning streak, putting
them 3-0 in the MAC and giving them good momentum going into this game.  What
has been the catalyst for this, and what are the keys that Temple relies on to
keep this streak going?

Mike Mastrangelo:  Opening up with two losses to Villanova and
Penn State would be crushing to some teams that had high expectations as Temple
did for this season.  Many people here in Philadelphia criticized Coach Al
Golden for taking the Villanova game, citing that there was no benefit to be
gained from beating an FCS team, albeit a top-five FCS team.  But those two
losses, against two quality opponents, I think, have really set the stage for
the Owls' 3-0 start in the MAC.

Despite losing 31-6 at Penn State, Temple played an extremely physical game
and never gave up.  Golden acknowledged his team learned more about themselves
in that loss than any win would have taught them.

During the first two weeks, Temple really struggled to find its identity.  It
was unsure about its offensive line, running backs, and the play of its
quarterback. The Owls made some adjustments along the offensive line, and began
running a more ball- control offense featuring freshman running back Bernard
Pierce.  In the two losses, Pierce, while splitting carries with fellow running
back Kee-ayre Griffin, ran the ball a total of 13 times for 68 yards and no
touchdowns.  In the last three games, all wins, Pierce has carried the ball 71
times for 421 yards and five touchdowns.  The recipe for Temples' continued
success on the offensive side of the ball is to allow its mammoth offensive line
to dominate and let Pierce to wear down the defenses.  Couple this with
quarterback Vaughan Charlton being able to effectively manage the game and hit
the big plays off the play-action pass when called upon to do so, and the Owls
should have no problem keeping this momentum going.

The one constant throughout the season so far has been the stellar play of
the defense.  Defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio believes in stopping the run,
putting opposing offenses in long third down situations, and bringing pressure
in those situations to force the quarterback to make mistakes.  So far this
recipe for success has worked, as the Owls defense boasts the 13th
best rushing defense in the country, first in the MAC, and have forced 11
turnovers the last three games.  With stiff tests coming against run heavy teams
in Army and Navy, we'll see if the Temple defense can keep it going.  Based on
the first five games, my bet is yes.

GoBlackKnights.com:  Freshman running back Bernard Pierce has been a
standout for the Owls this year, rushing for 489 yards on the season and coming
off a 125 yard performance.  Can you talk about his running style, and also what
impact the offensive line has had in his success?

Kyle Gauss: Pierce has been an incredible blessing for this team. With
his performance against Ball State last Saturday, Pierce became the first Temple
freshman running back to rush for 100 yards in three consecutive games. He also
already has the second most rushing yards ever for a Temple freshman, despite
the season being only five games old. Pierce has the size to break tackles,
weighing in at about 215 pounds, but still has enough of a burst to get through
holes in a team's defense.  

That being said, for everything that Pierce has done this year, a good portion
of the credit has to go to the offensive line. After losing four year starter
Alex Derenthal to graduation, many fans were less than optimistic about what
this year's line could do. However, they've really come through so far, giving
Pierce more than enough space to produce. Golden actually had a quote a couple
weeks ago about how he didn't think that Pierce would've had this much of an
impact if he had come in last year, due to the difference in offensive lines.

GoBlackKnights.com:  Can you talk a little about the play of
Quarterback Vaughn Carlton?  How has he been able to lead the offense, and what
are his strengths and weaknesses?

Mike Mastrangelo:  Quarterback Vaughan Charlton is the wild card here
for the whole Temple team.  The offense has it all with a huge offensive line, a
great running game with Pierce and Griffin, and playmakers at the wide receiver
position. The one consistent element of the Owls' offense has been the
inconsistent play of Charlton.

At 6-foot-4, 235-pounds, with a rocket for an arm, Charlton certainly passes
the eye test for a quarterback.  He throws a great ball, however accuracy is a
major concern.  During the first couple games he struggled hitting his short to
intermediate throws, but connected on several long passes.  However in the last
three games, it has been the complete opposite as he is finally connecting on
his short throws, but failing to convert on several big-play opportunities.

One could argue Temple was winning despite the play
of Charlton the last two weeks. In two wins against Buffalo and Eastern
Michigan, he was a combined 15 of 35 for 218 yards with two touchdowns and an

Coach Al Golden has been on Charlton from day one
about being more relaxed in the pocket and letting the game come to him. This
past week, in a win against Ball State, Charlton showed excellent poise and
composure and completed several big throws for first downs in critical
situations.  He left a few big plays on the field, but he did what he had to do
to manage the game.  As long as Charlton can hit the open receiver when called
upon, and not try to do too much, he will get better and the team as a whole
will be better off.  It will be interesting to see what Vaughan we will get this

GoBlackKnights.com:  Temple's defense has been very aggressive this
year.  They have the #13 rushing defense in the country, and are 44th in total
defense.  What has keyed this success, and how do you feel about Temple's
chances defending Army's triple option?

Kyle Gauss:  The defense is the heart and soul of this squad.
They're strong, smart and fast.  The defensive line is led by nose tackle Andre
Neblett, who many believe will end up playing on Sundays in the near future.
Neblett started the season slow, but has really started to regain some momentum
as the weeks have gone on. Another name on the line to remember is Adrian
Robinson. Robinson, the defensive MVP of the 2008 Big 33 game, leads the team in
sacks and tackle for losses.  The linebacker corp is one of, if not the most
experienced parts of this defense, sporting two seniors and a junior. Team
Captain Alex Joseph was nominated for the Butkus award last year, before
suffering from plantar fasciitis which hampered his ability to produce.

I think the success this defense has had can be attributed to sheer talent. Ever
since Golden's staff has taken over on North Broad Street, the defense has
always been the most successful unit. They were statistically the best defense
in the MAC in 2007, and most of the starters from that team are still wearing
Cherry and White.

As for the option, it's something that this defense has faced before. The Owls
have faced Navy every year since Golden took the job and have also faced the
Black Knights the past two years. They've actually had fairly decent success
against the option, as they had Navy beat last year before fumbling late in the
fourth quarter.

I think this team has strong enough corners and safeties to successfully
implement an "outside-in" defense against Army's option, but it'll be
interesting to see what defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio attempts to do.

GoBlackKnights.com:  Both Army and Temple are at pivotal points in
their season and on momentum highs.  For Army, a win over Temple puts them in
the drivers seat on their quest for a bowl bid.  For Temple, it gives them real
command on their season.  How do you see this game playing out, and what is your
prediction on the outcome?

Kyle Gauss:  A hard nosed football team coming off an impressive win
over an SEC team would have spelled disaster for previous Temple teams, even as
recently as last year. This year's team is different, however, as they're acting
as if they've been here before. Every player on the team is keeping their focus
is on the game at hand. Nobody on that team is looking past this game. One of
Golden's favorite phrases is that the team is just now "learning how to win."
The squad is humble, in spite of their success.

Look for the Owls to try to establish the run for a couple of reasons. First and
foremost, Bernard Pierce has been incredibly successful the past three games.
Secondly, the Owls need to eat up clock in order for their defense to stay well
rested. Defending the option can take quite the toll on a defensive unit,
something I'm sure a former defensive coordinator like Al Golden is more than
aware of.

I think this game is huge for the Owls, despite the fact it's an out of
conference game. With a win, the Owls would be 4-2, just two wins away from
being bowl eligible for the first time in a long time. I don't think you can
quite call it a must win situation, but it's definitely a game that the Owls
should probably win.

That being said, any time you play a military academy, you have to be ready
to play disciplined football. I think this game stays close for the most part,
with the Owls squeaking out a victory. If I had to put a score on it, I'd say
24-17 Owls.

Army kicks off against Temple at 1:00pm EST on Saturday.  Join the
GoBlackKnights.com Live Blog for the game, which will be posted on the front
page prior to kickoff.

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