Temple opening eyes with fast start

Temple hit new highs under former coach Al Golden, but faced some uncertainty when he left for Miami.

Would new coach Steve Addazio be able to lift the program even further? After four games, that answer appears to be yes.

The Owls just dominated Maryland in a 38-7 win, and they nearly upset Penn State the week before. Now at 3-1, they face a critical MAC test against Toledo, a team that has gotten close to pulling two upsets on AQ teams but fallen just short.

What Addazio has done is instill in his team a "lunch pail" mentality. That is no coincidence, either.

"I learned that this team, we're a physically tough football team, they like football, and they play hard," Addazio said this week. "That's a great starting point. We talk about being Temple tough and Philly proud. I'm not a big slogan guy. There's no T-shirts with slogans on them, but that means something to our football program -- that we are a tough football team and we play in a tough city. Our goal has to become increasingly mentally tougher."

That physicality has played out on both offense and defense. Temple leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing 7.8 yards a game. The Owls also lead the MAC in total defense, rushing defense, sacks and pass efficiency defense. The offensive line, the position group that Addazio used to coach as an assistant at Florida, has played better as well.

Indeed, running back Bernard Pierce is off to a terrific start, rushing for 496 yards and a nation-leading 12 touchdowns. He is averaging 5.7 yards a carry and has three 100-yard games already this season, on pace for a better season than his breakout freshman year in 2009.

Temple launched a Heisman campaign for Pierce last season, but he was hampered by injuries for most of the season. Pierce rededicated himself in the weight room this past offseason to work on his durability. He added 10 pounds and feels better than ever.

"I feel stronger," Pierce said in a phone interview. "This summer, I made sure I got more agility, and I worked on my lateral steps, burst and footwork."

Addazio has not shied away from playing two quarterbacks. Both Mike Gerardi and Chester Stewart have gotten game action, but Stewart will start this week against Toledo after a breakout performance against the Terps. Gerardi had started the first three games.

Stewart went 9-of-9 for 140 yards in the game. "He led the team," Addazio said. "I've been around some great quarterbacks. The mark to me of a great quarterback is the ability to lead, the ability to get your unit to play really hard and manage the game, and make the plays that are available to be made. Chester did a great job with that Saturday. He needs to be given that opportunity to do that again."

Addazio has managed his veteran team well, and brought a business-like approach along with a passion for the game. Temple is coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1978, but his task is not just to maintain, but to elevate. The Owls fell just short of the MAC title game the past two seasons.

The Maryland win certainly is nice, but winning the MAC would be even better. That is why the players are not putting too much on the upset of the Terps. They have to keep bringing their lunch pails with them and go to work.

"It's always good to come out strong, but you can't get too big-headed and think we're on top because we're not," Pierce said. "We still have a lot of work to do."