Bowl Blitz: Wyoming, Temple kick off Bowl Season in New Mexico Bowl

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As East Carolina University and its fans prepare for their upcoming “trip” to the 2011 Virtual Bowl, we here at Saturday Blitz would like to prep our readers, and all college football fans, with previews of the actual bowl games.

There are three bowl games on Saturday, all of which should be exciting match-ups that get 2011-12 Bowl Season started with a bang! First up, at 2 pm PT is the Glidan New Mexico Bowl featuring a pair of 8-4 teams – Wyoming (Mountain West) and Temple (Mid-American) – each of which is making it’s second bowl appearance in the past three years.

Currently on Bodog.com, Temple is a one touchdown favorite and the projected over/under (total points scored) at 50. If all goes according to plan, this could be quite an exciting match-up and a great way to begin Bowl Season.

TEMPLE OWLS

The Owls are playing only their fourth bowl game in the 113-year history of the program. Looking just at the numbers, Temple is a formidable opponent. The Owls average 30 points per game, 45th overall, and are holding opponents to just 13.8 points, ranking them third behind Alabama and LSU. Although they totaled eight wins, including a 5-3 record in conference play, Temple did not beat a team this season that had a winning record. Despite the soft schedule, the Owls only lost one game by more than four points.

Offensively, the Owls flex their muscles on the ground, boasting a run game that averaged 5.3 yards per rush and totaled more than 3,000 yards rushing as a team – more than double their passing totals. Junior running back Bernard Pierce is Temple’s leading rusher with 1,381 yards, sixth nationally, and has scored a school-record 25 touchdowns. During the past two season, Temple is 19-2 when Pierce carries the ball at least 18 times. As good as the 6-foot 218 lb. back is, much of his success is due to the fact that he rushes behind a massive, experienced offensive line. Junior right tackle Martin Wallace is the only non-senior on the offensive line and he’s also the lightest – listed at only 310 pounds. The other four lineman, from left-to-right, are 320 lb. Pat Boyle, 328 lb. Derek Dennis, 312 lb. John Palumbo and 324 lb. Wayne Tribue.

Defensively, Temple is led by senior middle linebacker Stephen Johnson who racked up an incredible 113 tackles, 62 solo, including four tackles for loss, two sacks and three forced fumbles. The Owls play a 4-3 defense with strong-side linebacker Tamir Whitehead and defensive end Adrian Robinson as the best pass rushers. Whitehead racked up 12 TFL’s and five sacks and along with his 59 total tackles he forced four fumbles and recovered three. Robinson led the Owls in sacks, with six, had 11 TFLs, blocked a kick and even added an interception. Up front, the defensive line is almost as big as the O-line with a pair of sophomore tackles, 6’3″ Shahid Paulhill at 300lbs. and 6’2″ Levi Brown at 305 lbs.

Season Recap
Temple started the season with a 42-7 beat-down of FCS Villanova and moved to 2-0 after beating conference foe Akron 41-3. The best opponent the Owls faced all season was Penn State, whom Temple hosted and nearly upset, falling 14-10 when the Nittany Lions scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:42 left. Temple quickly bounced back by beating Maryland on the road 38-7 the following week to move to 3-1. After a loss to 36-13 loss to Toledo, Temple beat Ball State (42-0) and Buffalo (34-0) to climb back to three games over .500 before losing back-to-back conference games to Bowling Green (13-10) and Ohio (35-31). At 5-4, the Owls needed a strong finish in order to ensure bowl eligibility. They got just what they needed by winning their final three games, beating Miami (Ohio) 24-21, Army 42-14 and Kent State 34-16.

WYOMING COWBOYS

The Cowboys are in their third year under head coach Dave Christenson and are making their second bowl appearance of his tenure. Wyoming is one of the biggest surprises this bowl season. After finishing last season 3-9, the Cowboys equaled that win total after just three games and now have the opportunity to finish the season six wins better than they finished last year. While Temple racked up eight wins with a relatively soft schedule, the Cowboys played six bowls teams this year – Nebraska, Utah State, San Diego St. TCU, Air Force and Boise State. Wyoming averages four fewer points per game than Temple at 27 and actually has given up an equal 27 points per game.

For the second time in three years the Cowboys are led by a true freshman at quarterback. This time around it’s dual-threat Brett Smith under center and if Wyoming plans to win this game they’ll need Smith to have a big game. He averages more than 260 all-purpose yards per game, was his team’s second-leading rusher with 645 yards on 123 attempts and scored a team-high 10 rushing touchdowns. Through the air, he’s completed a respectable 60 percent of his passes, totaling 2495 yards (an average of 207 per game) and tossing 18 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he will be without his top receiver, Chris McNeill, who suffered an injury against Air Force on November 12. Without McNeill, who had 42 catches for 504 yards and four touchdowns, Smith will need Mazi Ogbonna, Robert Herron, Dominic Rufran or Josh Doctson to step up in a big way – none of whom averaged more than 40 yards receiving per game.

On defense, the Cowboys are a poor tackling team that have allowed eight teams to run for more than 200 yards and they rank in the bottom 20 nationally in every major rush defense category – not a good omen going up against run-heavy Temple. Two of Wyoming’s top-three tacklers are strong safety Luke Ruff (team-high 97 tackles, 51 solo) and free safety Tashaun Gipson (87 tackles, 65 solo). Defensive end Gabe Knapton is clearly the Cowboys best pass rusher with seven tackles for a loss and six and a half sacks. On the other side of the front-line is Josh Biezuns who racked up nine TFL’s and tallied five sacks. Biezuns, at 6’2″ also added three pass breakups and forced a team-high five fumbles.

Season Recap
Wyoming faced two FCS opponents to start the season and although they won both, they barely beat Weber State in the season-opener, only winning by three – 35-32. The game against Texas State was a 45-10 blowout and then the Cowboys squeaked by Bowling Green 28-27 to start 3-0. Bowling Green was actually the only common opponent between Wyoming and Temple. Week four saw Wyoming host Nebraska in what was dubbed the biggest game in Wyoming football history. Wyoming may have lost 38-14 but they weren’t uncompetitive. After a bye, the Cowboys suffered an embarrassing 63-19 loss to Utah State after jumping out to a 12-0 lead. At 3-2 and needing at least seven wins to secure bowl eligibility, the Cowboys won five of their final seven games. They beat UNLV and San Diego St., 41-14 and 30-27 respectively, before losing 31-20 against TCU. Two more wins, over Air Force (25-17) and New Mexico (31-10) preceded the Cowboys last loss – to Boise St. (36-14). They finished the season with a 22-19 victory in the 112th Border War against Colorado State to secure some momentum heading into bowl season.

Players to Watch
Temple

  • Running Back Bernard Pierce – No. 6 nationally with 1,381 yards and 25 TD’s
  • Offensive line – average weight: 318 lbs.
  • Linebacker Stephen Johnson – 113 total tackles
  • Punter/PK Brandon McManus – fifth nationally with 45.89 yards per punt
  • Kick/Punt Returner Matt Brown – No. 16 nationally in kickoff returns with an average of 26.73 yards per return. No. 20 nationally in all-purpose running with 145.92 yards per game

Wyoming

  • QB Brett Smith – 207 passing yards per game (18 touchdowns) and 56 rushing (10 touchdowns)
  • WR Josh Doctson – 6’4″ 185 lb. freshman receiver – 32 catches, 361 yards (4 TD’s)
  • Defensive line – can they stop Temple’s run game
  • CB Blair Burns – team-high four interceptions, four pass breakups and 1 fumble recovery
  • DE Josh Biezuns, 9.5 TFL’s 5 sacks and 3 pass breaups and team-high five forced fumbles