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2009 EagleBank Bowl Preview

UCLA (6-6, 3-6; Pac Ten) vs. Temple (9-3, 7-1; MAC)

December 29th, 2009 @ 4:30 PM (EST) – ESPN – Washington, D.C.



The EagleBank Bowl only came into existence last year after a multi-year effort from various interests in the Nation’s Capital managed to receive NCAA approval. Last year’s game matched Navy and Wake Forest in the first bowl of the 2008 postseason and Wake Forest emerged victorious. This year, UCLA and Temple will both make triumphant returns to postseason play in Washington, D.C.

Temple can aptly be described as the football equivalent of the mythical Phoenix. Forcibly ejected from the Big East, this team was reborn as a member of the Mid-American Conference and this will be their first bowl appearance in thirty years. Risen from the ashes, indeed. If the Owls can win their 10th game, it will be only the 2nd time in school history that they’ve managed to do so, the first being that same 1979 team that earned their most recent bowl bid. Temple went on a nine game winning streak after dropping their first two games and fell short of the MAC Championship only because of to a loss against Ohio in their final game. Al Golden is their head coach and his career record is 19-29 in his four seasons in Philadelphia, though he has a winning record in MAC play.

Temple’s offense was surprisingly productive this fall, finishing 33rd in the country in scoring at 30.3 points per game. This was the result of a very strong rushing attack, which finished 23rd nationally while averaging nearly 200 yards per game. Tailback Bernard Pierce was the driving force, rushing for 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns. However, the Owls were extremely one-dimensional as their passing game was ranked 112th in the country! In short, the Owls like to run the football and take advantage of good field position from their defense.

And that defense has been built more quickly than the offense during Golden’s tenure and has been solid for the past few years. This season, they finished 34th nationally in scoring at 21.7 points per game, highlighted by the country’s 19th best ground defense. While they were fairly poor against the pass at 74th nationally, Temple finished tied with Alabama and Wisconsin for 20th in the country with 26 turnovers! The Owls have also been excellent in the pass rush, finishing 16th in the country with 33 sacks. This is a solid defense that has done a great job taking advantage of their opponents’ mistakes.

UCLA is continuing their evolution towards becoming a Pac Ten power and earned a postseason berth for the first time under Rick Neuheisel. While they’re still a long way from challenging rival USC, the Bruins have made some strides this year, highlighted by an impressive road victory at Tennessee and a solid defensive showing overall. Neuheisel was successful on the field in previous stops at Colorado and Washington (combined record: 66-30 with a 4-3 mark in bowls) but he left both schools in the midst of NCAA violations. He hasn’t run into the trouble at UCLA (yet) and his team has only gone 10-14 in his first two seasons.

To put it nicely, UCLA’s offense was awful this fall. The 99th ranked unit in the country at a mere 21.3 points per game was not what Bruins fans envisioned when Neuheisel and offensive guru Norm Chow took over in Westwood. The Bruins were ineffective on the ground with the 22nd worst rushing attack in the nation and their passing game was merely average at 52nd. While quarterback injuries certainly played a part in their struggles, this offense only scored more than 26 points twice all year. Yuck.

Luckily, UCLA was excellent defensively in 2009. Their 21.3 average was the 32nd best in the country and they were very good through the air, finishing 30th. Their ground defense was much more concerning, finishing 60th while allowing nearly 150 yards per game. The real strength of their defense was in the takeaway department as they forced 28 turnovers including a Pac Ten-best 18 picks. This is clearly a very good defense.

This is going to be an interesting showcase. Expect both teams to be excited to play after missing the postseason last year and both teams have very good defenses. One factor favoring Temple is their discipline as they’ve been flagged significantly less than UCLA. However, the Bruins can counter that with Neuheisel’s large background leading successful bowl preparations, something Golden has never done before.

Expect both defenses to come out ready to play in this game. With both sides so adept at forcing mistakes and the likelihood of poor weather in Washington in December, turnovers will probably come in bunches in this affair. Temple will do their best to pound the football but this will be their stoutest foe on the ground since Penn State held them to 46 yards rushing. In the end, UCLA is a much faster team and I think that they’ll manage to make enough plays on defense to win a low scoring game to give Neuheisel his first winning season coaching his alma mater.

EagleBank Bowl Pick: UCLA 16, Temple 10

 

by Matt Baxendell
Bax is collegesports-fans.com’s football writer. Keep an eye out for all 34 of his bowl previews! If you want to get in touch with him, email him at Matt.Baxendell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @MattBaxendell

 


 


 

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