WASHINGTON - Just think what his numbers might have been like if Temple running back Bernard Pierce had been cleared to play sooner by the NCAA Clearinghouse, and if he had not missed almost all of the Owls' last two regular-season games with a shoulder injury.
All the shifty Pierce did in 10 games - he had just 13 carries combined in the team's first two outings - was lead the Mid-American Conference in rushing with 1,308 yards. Scoring 15 touchdowns, Pierce set a pair of Temple freshman records.
The 6-foot, 212-pound native of Ardmore was named the league's rookie of the year and was a first-team all-conference selection.
"My freshman year is over," the former Glen Mills star said when asked about his accomplishments.
Pierce will be back in uniform tomorrow when Temple (9-3) meets UCLA (6-6) in the EagleBank Bowl at RFK Stadium. It will be his first game since he went down on the first play of the Owls' 47-13 victory over visiting Kent State on Nov. 21.
"A guy landed on me, and all of my weight went straight down to the ground," Pierce said. "I knew right away that I wasn't fine."
With Pierce out of the lineup for the rest of that game, as well Temple's 35-17 loss at Ohio on Nov. 27, the Owls turned to 5-foot-5, 167-pound freshman Matt Brown. And the speedy native of Baltimore came through with flying colors, posting 156 yards rushing and two touchdowns against Kent State, and 172 yards and a score against Ohio.
Brown is the other half of Temple's running-back tandem that has been dubbed "Bernie and the Bug."
"I knew he had it in him," Pierce said of Brown's performance in his absence. "He just had to bring it out."
Pierce didn't get off to such a good start when the NCAA Clearinghouse didn't rule him academically eligible until just before Temple's first game of the season. Coach Al Golden said he knew what he had in Pierce, but as the Owls prepared to host Villanova, the uncertainty surrounding Pierce resulted in his practice time being limited.
Pierce rushed six times for 44 yards in a 27-24 loss to Villanova, and for 24 yards on seven attempts when Temple fell to 0-2 with a 31-6 loss at Penn State.
Pierce made his first start in Game 3, and helped the host Owls defeat defending MAC champ Buffalo, 37-13, by gaining 116 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown. And as Temple went on to put together a school single-season record of nine straight wins, Pierce carried the Owls' offense before getting hurt against Kent State.
He had six 100-yard games in all. After a shoulder injury sent him to the sideline after Pierce had picked up 65 yards on 11 carries in less than two quarters in Temple's 27-13 win over Army on Oct. 17, he came back the next week to gain 212 yards on the ground with three touchdowns as Temple ran away at Toledo, 40-24.
Pierce's second shoulder injury was not related to the first, and did not heal as quickly.
"It required a lot of motion exercises," Pierce said of his rehab. "One hour at a time, three times a day."
Temple will have its top playmaker back for its first bowl game in 30 years.
"He's worked hard, and he's going to be ready," Golden said.
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel also knows about Pierce's skills.
"He's an exceptional player," Neuheisel said.