NCF Nation: Evan Rodriguez

New Mexico Bowl Keys

December, 16, 2011
12/16/11
2:00
PM ET
The prediction is in the books. Now it's time to look at the keys for Temple and Wyoming for Saturday's New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque.

Temple (8-4)

1. Establish Bernard Pierce early. The junior keys the nation's No. 7 rushing offense and is facing a weak run defense against the Cowboys.

2. Get to Brett Smith. The strength of the Owls' defense is their pass rush. They lead the MAC in sacks and are 17th nationally. Smith has been impressive for a true freshman quarterback and has a strong offensive line in front of him, presenting a challenge for Temple.

3. Don't be overwhelmed by the moment. This is not a top-tier bowl, but it is a big platform for Temple, which is riding a three-game winning streak and might be the most stable program in Pennsylvania at the moment. In going for their first bowl win since 1979, at the EagleBank Bowl in 2009, the Owls blew a 21-7 lead to UCLA and gained just 41 second-half yards in a 30-21 loss. Temple could generate plenty of momentum with a win Saturday, which would be huge for first-year coach Steve Addazio to build off.

Wyoming (8-4)

1. Win the turnover battle. Easier said than done against a Temple offense tied for third in the nation in fewest turnovers lost, with 12. But Wyoming's front-seven will simply need to make big plays against Pierce and Co., as the matchup heavily favors Temple on the ground. The Cowboys are fifth in the nation in turnover margin, at plus-15.

2. Contain Evan Rodriguez. The tight end is Temple's leading receiver, with 33 catches and 427 yards on the season. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder provides a big target for sophomore Chris Coyer, who will likely be making the fourth start of his career.

3. Send Gabe Knapton out strong. Three different positions and 49 career games have led to to 361 career tackles for the current end, who is 10th among active players and sixth in Mountain West Conference history. Knapton and his Abe Lincoln-like beard will take the field for the final time Saturday.
This spring was not so much about schemes and installations at Temple. New coach Steve Addazio just wanted to get to know his players, to watch each one, to get a gauge for who can do what.

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
Howard Smith/US PresswireFormer Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio is excited to get his program started at Temple.
Addazio and his staff kept everything simple, so their players could play fast and confident.

“Our spring was about toughness and accountability,” Addazio said in a phone interview this week. “At the end of practice after we felt like we had a real feel for our team, we put in some different things and got a good feel for what we can do.”

Addazio spent the past six seasons as an assistant at Florida, including two as offensive coordinator, so there will be some elements of the spread at Temple. But the Owls have depth at tight end and running back, and are undecided at quarterback, so Addazio emphasized he will do whatever fits his team best.

Bernard Pierce returns at running back and had a great spring. After Temple mounted a Heisman campaign for him at the start of 2010, Pierce struggled through an injury-plagued season in which he ran for 728 yards and 10 touchdowns. Addazio said one point of emphasis for Pierce was learning how to become durable.

Matt Brown, who provided a nice 1-2 combo with Pierce, was suspended for spring drills after getting into a verbal altercation with a teammate and coach, but will be back for fall camp. Without him, Temple got a good chance to see redshirt freshman Myron Myles, who scored three touchdowns in the spring game.

Evan Rodriguez returns at tight end after making first-team All-MAC. Watch for Alex Jackson, whom Addazio said emerged as a playmaker.

But the immediate question is what will happen at quarterback. Chester Stewart started last season before Mike Gerardi replaced him the rest of the way. They, along with Chris Coyer and Connor Reilly are competing for the starting job. Addazio won’t have a decision until fall.

“Competition’s a good thing, and I want to see them continue to play well,” Addazio said. “The way I look at it: all positions are wide open to me. The best thing that can happen to guys is to have competition and be pushed. Any time complacency sets in, human nature is to take your foot off the gas.”

Defensively, Temple has to replace its two best players, who also happened to get drafted this past weekend: defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson and safety Jaiquawn Jarrett. Adrian Robinson does return to anchor the defensive line, and Kamal Johnson and Kadeem Custis had a nice spring on the interior. Kevin Kroboth is the heir apparent to Jarrett.

Finding new starters is one big part of the job, but so is finding leaders and building chemistry, something that Addazio hopes his team is able to do this summer.

“Personality has to be developed,” Addazio said. “That’s something that’s yet to be determined. That’s a huge factor and something that we want to see develop. Talent will get you seven wins, but how do you get eight, nine, 10, 11. Leadership, chemistry and character help you get those extra wins.”

Temple is going to need those extra wins to guarantee itself a return to a bowl game. Last season, the Owls went 8-4 but were passed over for an at-large selection. Still, Temple posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1978 under Al Golden, so expectations have been raised.

That is the task facing Addazio, no stranger to high expectations.

“I can’t worry about what was,” Addazio said. “I just focus on what’s going to be. You start worrying about living up to people’s perceptions of things, then you drive yourself crazy. We put enough pressure on ourselves. Whether they won seven games here or 12 games here, it would have no bearing on what we do here.

“Put your program in, work really hard, condition, train really hard, put together a good plan and go after it. That’s the way it is. … This is a program that’s on the rise right now. We’ve continued that with a great winter and spring. I see us heading into a great direction.”

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