EagleBank Bowl Preview: Temple

UCLA will try to finish the season with a winning record when it faces Temple in the EagleBank Bowl Tuesday. The Owls havent' been to a bowl game in 30 years so they're pumped up, but it's questionable just how good they are, having played one of the weakest schedules in the country...

FACTS AND FACTORS

-- UCLA travels to Washington, D.C. to play in the EagleBank Bowl on Tuesday, December 28th, at RFK Stadium against the Temple Owls.

-- The game will be televised at 1:30 PST on ESPN, with Bob Wischusen and Bob Griese calling the action.

-- The EagleBank Bowl is in just its second year of existence.

-- Temple, which is located in Philadelphia, Penn., went 9-3 this season, and it was a milestone season for the Owls. It was their first winning season in 19 years; it's their first bowl appearance in 30 years, and they tied for first in the MAC East Division, with a 7-1 conference record and a school record nine consecutive wins.

-- Al Golden is in his fourth year as the head coach at Temple, and has succeeded in turning around a program that was a perennial loser. In the three years before Golden took over, Temple went 3-31, but he is now 19-29 over his four seasons. Temple fans thought it was almost too good to be true when he posted a 5-7 record in 2008, which represented the most wins by a Temple team in 20 years. To then go 9-3 this season has left Temple fans ecstatic. The 40-year old Golden came to Temple from Virginia, where he served as the defensive coordinator and, when he was first hired for the job, was the youngest DC in D-1 college football. You might remember he was on UCLA's short list of coaching candidates when the Bruins were looking to replace Karl Dorrell in 2007 and ultimately hired Rick Neuheisel. A graduate of Penn State, some east coast fans believe that Golden covets the Nittany Lion job when it opens (if it ever does) after Joe Paterno retires. He coached under Paterno for one season at Penn State.

-- This year's team features Golden's first recruiting class as seniors. It returned 21 players who had started a game in their career. The Owls utilize an "East Coast Offense," which features a dedication to a running game and more of a vertical passing game, and a 4-3 defense.

-- It's the first meeting ever between UCLA and Temple. It's unusual for UCLA to face a team that doesn't have any players on its roster from California.

-- It's UCLA's 24th overall bowl appearance, and first in two years. Since 1982, UCLA stands at 11-8 in bowl games, the best in the Pac-10. The 11 bowl victories rank 11th nationally.

-- Temple's 9 wins this season featured a win over just one team with a winning record (Navy, 27-24, and Navy was without its starting quarterback). Their three losses were against the other three teams on their schedule with winning records, Villanova, Penn State and Ohio. Villanova, too, is an FCS (1-AA) team.

== UCLA beat one only team with a winning record itself (Tennessee).

-- Of UCLA's six losses, all six were to teams competing in bowl games and five were to teams ranked in the final BCS Top 25. Overall, UCLA played seven bowl teams (the other six Pac-10 teams plus Tennessee).

-- Four of Temple's 2009 opponents— Villanova (FCS playoffs), Penn State (Capital One Bowl), Navy (Texas Bowl), and Ohio (Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl)— are participating in postseason play.

-- Of the 9 teams Temple beat, they average an RPI ranking of 100 (among 120 FBS teams), while UCLA's defeated foes average 75. In fact, six of Temple's victories came against teams ranked among the 20 worst in the FBS, including the worst (Eastern Michigan, who went 0-12).

-- The weather forecast calls for a high of 36 degrees Tuesday in D.C., and sunny.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. TEMPLE'S DEFENSE

When trying to analyze the Temple defense you have to put it in perspective. You can say that Temple's defense is ranked 37th in the nation, but you can also make the case that it produced that ranking playing inferior MAC teams.

Against its opponents with winning records this season, it's allowed an average of 366 yards per game, which would get Temple's defense ranked 63rd in the country. And then take into consideration that the teams with winning records are an FCS team, Villanova, Ohio (who has the 99th ranked offense in the country), Navy (who has the 83rd ranked offense in the country), and Penn State, with the 36th-ranked offense in the country.

We're not saying that Temple's defensse isn't good; just saying that the rankings are a bit skewed because of its competition.

Just to put it further in perspective, UCLA finished the regular season with the 39th-ranked defense in the country. But it earned it against six top-50 national offenses: Stanford (13th), Oregon (25th), Oregon State (28th), Arizona (40th), California (46th), and Tennessee (48th).

Temple's defensive strength is clearly its defensive line. Three of its four DL made the MAC first-team defense, led by MAC Defensive Player of the Year, sophomore defensive end Adrian Robinson (6-2, 248). Robinson is 10th in the nation in sacks, averaging .92 per game (12 on the season). He has linebacker quickness and a great motor.

Inside are two other all-conference players, senior nose tackle Andre Neblett (6-2, 300) and sophomore standout Muhammad Wilkerson (6-5, 301). Neblett is a three-year starter while Wilkerson, like Robinson, has had a break-out sophomore season, leading the down linemen with 56 tackles, 9 tackles for loss and 7 sacks.

Safety Dominique Harris.
Two linebackers returned from last season, and senior middle linebacker Alex Joseph (6-2, 235) is one of them, leading the team in unassisted tackles (46, 73 overall). Junior Elijah Joseph (6-1, 235) is also a good one, having some standout games this season.

The secondary has some talent and experience. The leader of the defense is senior strong safety Dominique Harris (6-3, 215), who was voted the team's MVP by his teammates. Harris is a D.C. native, so he'll be playing in front of a big group of family and friends, and surely won't want to disappoint.

Junior free safety Jaiquawn Jarrett (6-2, 195) is a good one, with a good sense for the ball, leading the team with 3 interceptions.

The cornerbacks are young, with sophomore Kevin Kroboth (6-0, 195) at the boundary spot, who gets most of the tougher match-ups, and freshman Maurice Jones (5-10, 195). Both have struggled some at times this season.

The big news offensively for UCLA is that quarterback Kevin Prince progressed enough with his shoulder injury through bowl practice to be able to start Tuesday.

The bad news is that Kai Maiava, the starting center and anchor of the offensive line, is ineligible academically to play. UCLA's offensive line, in fact, has had to go two and three deep for this game, with injuries to starting guard Eddie Williams and second-string center/guard Ryan Taylor. Taylor has recovered enough to be able to provide back-up minutes in this game. But UCLA is down to its third string at center with Jake Dean and guard with Nick Ekbatani. Both, however, are experienced players and it's their last game as Bruins, so you'd expect them to want to go out on a high note.

Kevin Prince.
Johnathan Franklin spent most of the season as the starting tailback, but was demoted after a fumbling issue. He has, though, in bowl practice, looked very good, and the word is that the coaches have gained confidence in his ability to hang onto the ball. Senior Chane Moline, the starting fullback, took over the starting tailback spot while Franklin had fumble-it is, and did an adequate job, but the running game loses some considerable speed and explosiveness in that switch.

Advantage: Even. Temple has a good defensive unit, for a MAC conference team, but when they have gone up against high-major offensive talent, however, they haven't held up very well. They are good against the run, so you can expect UCLA, with its injuries on the offensive line and uncertainty at the tailback position, to not exactly go off for big yards in its running game.

Temple, though, is vulnerable through the air. They have inexperience at the cornerback spot, and they try to mask it with good play from their safeties. Opposing teams have tried to get Temple's cornerbacks isolated, and it's had some success. Mostly the way Temple defends against the pass is with a strong pass rush, particularly from Robinson. His match-up against UCLA's standout freshman left tackle, Xavier Su'a-Filo, should be one of the best one-on-one match-ups to watch in this game.

UCLA's offensive effectiveness will come down to how sharp Prince is. Temple's pass coverage has been vulnerable to bad, especially on the deep ball, so UCLA needs to at least attempt to stretch the field.

TEMPLE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

The Owls don't exactly have a balanced offensive attack. They are 23rd in the nation in rushing offense, and 112th in passing offense.

Temple runs the ball twice as much as they pass, and average 192 rushing yards per game.

They clearly have recognized their strength and have decided to go with it, and not really even attempt beyond a token effort to pass the ball.

Tailback Bernard Pierce.
Their last game against Ohio, which they lost, was telling. They trailed for most of the game, and were even down by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but still continued to run the ball.

It's understandable, too, when you have one of the best freshman tailbacks in the country, a good MAC offensive line, and then a problem at your quarterback position.

Freshman Bernard Pierce (6-0, 210) has set a school season record of 1,308 rushing yards, and he did that also while being ineligible at the beginning of the season and overcoming injuries. He ranks 11th in t he country with 118 yards per game, and 2nd in the country by a freshman. He's big, hard to bring down, and seems to get better at the game goes on. Pierce was a bit nicked up, but he's supposed to be ready to play.

But the running attack doesn't end there. Fellow freshman Mack Brown (5-5, 167) ran for 446 yards and averaged 6.5 yards per carry (Pierce averaged 5.8). He is a little guy, nicknamed "The Bug," and extremely quick and shifty, the perfect complement to Pierce. Amazingly, while Pierce has set a record for rushing yards by a Owl freshman, Brown, in the same season, is third on that list. When Pierce was out with an injury, The Bug took over primary tailback duties and did really well.

The tailbacks are good, but they are also so effective because they're running behind a good offensive line. Two Temple OLs made the MAC first team, junior right guard Colin Madison (6-4, 318) and junior right tackle Darius Morris (6-4, 321). Temple likes to run right, obviously, behind these guys. Sophomore left guard Steve Caputo (6-5, 315) started as a freshman, and senior left guard Devin Tyler (6-7, 308) is a load.

The Owl passing attack has been pretty weak this season. The starting quarterback at the beginning of the season was junior Vaughn Charlton (6-4, 235), and he came out and had a good game against Villanova, throwing for a career-high 317 yards. But after that he couldn't get in a groove, and was inaccurate for most of the season. Temple replaced him with the more mobile sophomore, Chester Stewart (6-3, 225), who has been a little bit of an improvement. Both finished the season completing less than 50% of their passes and that was, again, against pretty inferior defenses.

Sophomore Joe Jones (5-11, 206), a converted tailback, emerged as Temple's most consistent receiver, and junior Michael Campbell (6-2, 205) is more of the deep threat.

Brian Price.
UCLA's defense might be the healthiest it's been in a while, mostly by getting middle linebacker Reggie Carter time to rest his injured knee for the last several weeks. He's feeling so good he's contemplating not wearing the cumbersome knee brace he's worn for most of the season. Defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski is also much better now than he was in the last few games of the season.

Of course, UCLA has potential NFL first-rounder Brian Price at the other defensive tackle position. It's probably safe to say that the Temple interior OL hasn't faced too many players of Price's caliber.

Advantage: UCLA. Yes, Temple has a good running game, even by Pac-10 standards, but the Bruins' defense has done well all season bending and not breaking against teams with good running games, and not ultimately allowing many points to be put on the score board.

If Temple does go to the air, you'd have to think its shaky passing game would be a bit intimidated by UCLA's ballhawks in the secondary, with safety Rahim Moore leading the country in picks and cornerback Alterraun Verner tied for 19th.

So, Temple is one-dimensional, which they've been almost all year and they still have done well offensively, but expect UCLA's defense to put a great deal of pressure on the line of scrimmage with blitzes of all kinds, including run blitzes. Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough has had the same M.O. all season – pretty much taking the first quarter to scout out the opposition and then adjusting.

A guy who could have a big game is Akeem Ayers, UCLA's strongside linebacker who, in the second half of the season, put a hand down as a defensive end when UCLA went to a 3-4 in different situations. Ayers is the type of guy that a less-athletic team like Temple will struggle to contain. UCLA could go to the 3-4 even against the pass-poor Owls, to get Ayers a chance to match up against Temple's bigger, slower offensive tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS

UCLA, again, has an advantage in special teams, with perhaps the best kicker-punter combo in the nation in Kai Forbath and Jeff Locke.

Temple's punter, Jeff Wathne, is averaging just 37 yards per punt, while placekicker Brandon McManus has been pretty consistent from within 40 yards, but loses accuracy beyond that.

Temple does have an advantage on its kick-off return team, with James Nixon tenth in the country as a kick returner, averaging 29 yards per kick and having returned two for touchdowns this season. If there's a weakness in UCLA's special teams, it's the kick-off coverage team.

Prediction

It's difficult to assess really how good Temple is since they played one of the weakest schedules in the country. When they played against a legitimate team – Penn State – they couldn't stay on the field, but that was before Temple found its legs (literally) with Pierce.

Perhaps a good game to look at is Temple's last regular-season game against Ohio, which the Owls lost, 35-17. Ohio is 9-3 this season, with an offense ranked 99th nationally while UCLA is ranked 88th. Their running game isn't great while their passing game is better, and they have a defense that struggled some against the run but was pretty good against the pass. Ohio, also, might be a little over-rated because of its MAC competition, especially compared to UCLA's Pac-10 competition, but, for comparison's sake, you could say that Ohio is a comparable team to UCLA.

Against Ohio, Temple gained 255 yards on the ground and just 123 through the air. Its pass defense gave up 324 yards passing, giving up many big plays, while Ohio still ran the ball quite a bit more than it threw, rushing for 170 yards. Ohio's quarterback, Theo Scott, went 17 for 21 against Temple's defense, basically doing whatever he wanted, while Temple's quarterbacks threw three interceptions.

Now, there are some intangibles that clearly favor Temple. The Owls have to be pumped up for their first bowl game in 30 years. Heck, Owl alum Bill Cosby has been talking trash. Also, you could bet that many of UCLA's players probably had never heard of the EagleBank Bowl before UCLA was picked to play in it.

Plus, the game will be played in 36-degree weather, which those California boys just aren't used to.

On the other hand, UCLA had good, spirited bowl practices over the last couple of weeks.

The fact that the intangible and the weather are on Temple's side, they have a good running game that could dominate possession, and Kevin Prince's shoulder might not be too loose in near-freezing weather, the Owls should, at least, be competitive with the Bruins.

But ultimately, the bigger and better athletes usually win.

Kai Forbath will kick four field goals, UCLA will get at least one score from special teams and defense and that will be enough, while Pierce will gain big yards but Temple will fail to translate that into enough points.

UCLA 26
Temple 21


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