Tough Temple triumphs over Penn State to end drought started since WWII
Philadelphia (Sept. 5) – As a Penn State fan for many years, let me say this first of all: Temple has a very good football team this year and the players are well-coached. The Owls overcame a first half 10-0 deficit over a Nittany Lion team that had a lot to prove coming into this season with the sanctions they played under for the past three years, and they dominated the Nittany Lions the rest of the game for an outstanding 27-10 victory. Over the years since 1979, we saw PSU defeat the Owls seven times – a couple of close ones as a matter of fact. Their last win in this series occurred on October 18, 1941. We went to this game mostly interested in seeing how well the Lions had improved their Offensive line to protect QB Christian Hackenberg and to revive a strong Nittany Lion running game. We knew the Owls would provide a tough chore defensively, but we weren’t sure what they could muster offensively against PSU’s defensive strength. It seemed like we were seeing what was expected during the first period despite some early miscues by the Lions. But stunts by the Owl front seven and very tight pass coverage by a very skilled secondary gave Penn State more than we anticipated for the balance of the game. When a Penn State receiver was open, however, Hackenberg usually misfired, but more often than not, tight coverage did not allow him to throw to his prime receiver before he could release the ball. Temple sacked “Hack” like they invented the game “Hacky-sack”. They sacked him whether it was off a linebacker stunt through an open seam or with a two-man bull rush against the entire O-line. Despite knowing TU’s defense was strong coming in, on the other hand like many State fans, we wondered if there was any significant improvement up front on the O-Line at all. HC James Franklin and OL Coach Herb hand have some quick fixes to make for their upcoming games, and we’re not just talking about Big Ten games. Last season Hackenberg was sacked 44 times. In this first game, Temple took him down ten times already. We will be at home games against Rutgers and San Diego State in the coming weeks. We are eager to see what they are going to do in this short time frame after having worked on it during the entire off season. No doubt though that Temple’s D was good last year, and it’s even better this year.
PSU scored on its first drive starting from the 30 and culminating with a 34-yard FG by frosh PK Joey Julius, himself a big question mark literally and figuratively entering his first season and weighing in at 6’-1”, 261 lbs. On this drive, WR Geno Lewis had two passes slip right through his fingers. TU’s offense stalled after three plays again on its second possession and the Lions’ offense went back to work from their 25. At the TU 42, Akeel Lynch (10 carries for 78 yards, 1 TD) burst through a hole in the left side for a Nittany TD and a 10-0 lead. Maybe the Lions line had improved from what we saw on that particular play. The D looked dominant as anticipated well into the second period. TU showed no signs of overcoming them at this point. PSU’s Dan Pasquariello’s punt set Temple back on their seven yard line midway in the second. Former Elizabeth, NJ HS teammates, Temple QB P. J. Walker and RB Jahad Thomas combined for the 93 yards on the ground and through the air to get the Owls into the end zone on the ensuing drive. A fake handoff and a quick pitch out to Thomas around the left side put him in the end zone unscathed to put Temple within three, 10-7, with 2:25 remaining in the half. The score stood into half time.
I kepyt my long-time PSU connection and die-hard alum John Massimilla closely informed by text about highlights through the first half as he attended a wedding in Atlanta this afternoon. He asked me for my prediction for the second half as the wedding was about to start. I figured 24-7, PSU. The defense let up a score, but I had noted that players had been interchanged defensively through the half and that PSU would play the balance of the game with their first teamers that dominated TU‘s offense early. I also figured that Franklin would make some offensive adjustments and have Hackenberg finding some open receivers down field. My mind was picturing the wrong locker room at halftime. PSU did neither in the second half. Temple’s D was just warming up, and HC Matt Rhule and OC Marcus Satterfield saw some chinks in the Lion defense and would take advantage. On several critical situations in the second half, they used tight crossing patterns across the middle for big gains. Walker connected with Ventrell Bryant on one for 25 yards during the first half scoring drive.
PSU received the opening kick of Q3 out at the 35 when it was booted out of bounds. They netted only 19 yards before punting it away. Hackenberg terribly misfired on a third down passing attempt. All his passes seemed of the short out or over the middle variety. Rarely did he look long. You had to question the confidence the team had in their offensive front to give him adequate protection. Temple noted it, too. Two series later, Temple’s PK Austin Jones sailed a 40-yard FG through the uprights. Temple was in this game to stay tied now at 10-10. Geno Lewis brought the kick out to the 35. A run for no gain, an incomplete pass, and a sack on a stunt by LB Tyler Matkevich (seven tackles including three sacks) forced another PSU punt. It was ruled a touchback, and PSU fans sitting with us up in section 235 right above the end zone were relieved as it looked to skip out at the one-foot line. We figured it was break. It didn’t matter for what was to come. After a completion of eight yards on an out pattern, Hackenberg threw toward the right sideline and DE Sharif Finch snagged it off his hip and ran it back to the PSU two after originally being ruled a touchdown. Following a defensive pass interference call in the end zone, Walker faked even me out from way above in my seat as his handoff went one way and he darted to his left untouched for a one-yard TD and a surprising 17-10 Owl lead. A minute remained in the third period.
Entering the final stanza, it was evident that the “great recruiter”, James Franklin, was being outcoached by former PSU Linebacker Matt Rhule. After another sack of hack by LB Nate Smith, Temple took over from its 49. At the PSU 24, Thomas (29 carries for 135 yards, two TDS) veered around the left end , stiff armed a would-be tackler, and continued to drift to the left pylon until he got into the end zone for an unexpected 24-10 Temple lead. Many Penn State fans had seen enough and headed to the exits. Their Lions didn’t seem to play with any sense of urgency. Lynch ran for four yards, Hack got sacked again, and Lynch caught a pass for a three-yard loss. They punted. What were the Lion coaches waiting for? They seemed to be throwing in the towel. Walker and Thomas teamed up again passing and running to set Jones up for a 30-yard FG attempt. With 5:41 left, Temple led 27-10. PSU played like it was already over. Three incompletions and a sack by DT Matt Ioanndis (Ringoes, NJ/ Hunterdon Central HS) on four consecutive plays sealed the game for TU. Temple had triumphed over PSU for the first time in 74 years during which they floundered with a 0-38-1 record. The way the Owls played on this day, it was well deserved. For PSU, it looks like it’s back to the drawing board, or more like the film room according to James Franklin during his post-game press conference. Maybe he and his team are spending a little too much time watching film together. Perhaps they should be out on the practice field some more where they should instill some more toughness amongst all this talent they are supposedly recruiting. I’d never seen a PSU team give up so early in a game before.
Next week, TU has an important early American Athletic Conference East duel with Cincinnati (1-0), the favorite to win the division. The Owls will face QB Gunner Keil, the all-conference preseason QB selection. The Bearcats beat up on Alabama A&M in their opener, 52-10. That was like shooting fish in a barrel compared to what the Owls will bring with them defensively to Nippert Stadium. PSU heads home to hopefully friendly Happy Valley to host Buffalo of the Mid-American, 51-14 winners over FCS Albany last Saturday. HC Larry Leipold who now coaches the Bulls in his first season after leading D3 Wisconsin-Whitewater to six national championships in nine seasons may be bringing Bulls of different horns than what PSU was expecting when they booked this game. We will be heading to the Birthplace of College Football in New Brunswick, NJ to see Rutgers (1-0) with a depleted secondary facing pass-happy Washington state (0-1) who lost their opener to FCS Portland State, 24-17, despite 411 yards of total offense by the Cougars. The week after, we see RU visit PSU in their Big Ten openers. Lots of question marks abound for both programs between now and then.
Extra points: The parking situation at the Linc was the worst I’d ever experienced. We had tough experiences there in the past for Army-Navy, but this was totally out of hand as PSUers in particular hoarded multiple spots for all their gear and to hold for late arriving guests. That’s why up in State College, tailgaters are guided into parking spaces one-by-one where they eventually set everything up until the line is full and they are no longer blocking any traffic. It wasn’t the case here in Philly. After paying $20 and searching 45 minutes for no available spaces, I exited the lot and found free parking on the street in a safe neighborhood not far from Citizens Bank Park where I will suggest that we and our cohorts meet at this year’s Army-Navy game, our last regular season game this year. It was less than a mile walk from where we parked and after a vacation week of eating, drinking, and hanging on the beach, it was welcomed. We missed out on tailgating, but they were serving beer at The Linc for $9 each with vendors carrying trays up and down the stairs. It was worth a few bucks for St. Laurie and me.
P.J. Walker completed 15 of 20 passes for 143 yards among nine receivers. He was also tied for the lead in receiving yards with 25 as he hauled in an option pass from WR John Christopher for a big gain.
Attendance was announced at 69,176 for the largest Temple home crowd in its history. And surprisingly, the Temple fans weren’t outnumbered as expected. They had a pretty good showing. We’ll be interested to see how many will buy tickets for October 31 when they also host Notre Dame who won big over Texas this past weekend. I’m also hoping that the Owls can win the AAC East and that Navy will win the AAC West so the two will square off for the championship on December 5, the weekend before we’re back at the Linc of Army-Navy. That would be great!
I witnessed the most horrible half time activity ever created. Two TU students played “Cyber Soccer” on computers and they simulated kicking a soccer ball into a goal on the big screen. First of all, a soccer contest at a football game doesn’t belong. Secondly, they can’t get out on the field and kick field goals or do something physical? No one in the stands reacted at all in the after the final outcome. No one cared. Soccer and computer simulated games are two things I can definitely live without. Don’t bring them to a football game! Anyone can sit and play video games. Now we have to watch?