With Bill O’Brien’s first win under his belt, the next objective is to start his first winning streak at the helm of Penn State football.
That begins when the Nittany Lions (1-2) host the Temple Owls (1-1) at noon on Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Penn State took down Temple 14-10 last season in Philadelphia and haven’t lost to the Owls since 1941. The Nittany Lions hold a commanding lead in the all-time series at 37-3-1.
But now with Penn State saddled with crippling NCAA sanctions for the next four years, Temple sees an opportunity to strike and break the winless drought. Leading the upset-minded Owls will be senior running back Matt Brown, who helps lead an Owls offensive attack that has put up 77 points through two games for coach Steve Addazio.
However, Temple’s high-octane offense will face something it hasn’t seen this season: Penn State’s defense. The Nittany Lions’ calling card is Michael Mauti’s gang of bruising defenders that have suffocated its last two opponents in Virginia and Navy. All the senior has done is lead the Nittany Lions in tackles through three weeks while averaging more than 10 per game. Ted Roof’s defense has also benefitted from the breakout performance of redshirt freshman defensive end Deion Barnes’ three sacks. He’s also forced a pair of fumbles in three games. On the backend, cornerbacks Adrian Amos and Stephon Morris have been solid in coverage since Penn State’s shocking opening loss to Ohio. The Lions rank 28th in the nation in points allowed per game at 16 even.
Temple’s defense meanwhile, gave up 36 points at home two weeks ago to Maryland and true freshman quarterback Perry Hills. If the Owls thought defending a quarterback in his second game ever was tough, they’ll have their hands full with Penn State senior Matt McGloin, who’s made more than 20 career starts. McGloin was masterful as Penn State sunk Navy, 34-7, throwing a career-high tying four touchdowns. He found his new favorite target, sophomore receiver Allen Robinson, five times for 136 yards and three touchdowns.
A week after being the goat in Penn State’s one-point loss at Virginia after missing four field goals and an extra point, Sam Ficken booted four of five extra points in the Lions’ drubbing of the Midshipmen. The sophomore’s first extra point, booted right down the middle, got more cheers from the 100,000+ fans in Beaver Stadium than McGloin’s touchdown pass. After the strong showing, coach O’Brien can probably feel just a little more content with his special teams going forward.
Even though the Nittany Lions did little wrong against Navy, they only managed 3.9 yards per carry. Penn State is averaging a just a shade over 100 rushing yards per game this season, and dearly misses opening day starter Bill Belton, who’s nursing an ankle sprain. The sophomore could play this Saturday, but was limited in practice all week. If he can’t go, look for senior Michael Zordich and Curtis Dukes to continue to receive carries in the backfield. Also look for O’Brien to air it out a bit on offense, something that worked magically last week.
As for the visiting Owls, they’ll need to find some holes in that tough Penn State defense by spreading the field and getting some running room for Brown to open up the passing game for quarterback Chris Coyer. Since the Owls are averaging just 119 passing yards per game, the Lions will stack the box and force Coyer to beat them. That doesn’t bode well for Temple.
Players to watch:
Matt Brown, RB, Temple. If the Owls can’t establish Brown and the running game early, the Lions will have a field day with the Temple passing attack. Brown was okay last time he carried the ball in Happy Valley (12 carries, 48 yards), but he’ll have to be outstanding to pull the upset.
Matt McGloin, QB, Penn State. This marks the fourth-consecutive week the senior has made this list. He makes it because he’s simply the most important part of the Nittany Lion offense. With Bill Belton out, and the running game lacking, it’s up to McGloin to make plays in the passing game. He didn’t againt Ohio and lost, but he did against Virginia and Navy.
Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State. Mauti’s defense will have to stuff the run just like they did last week against Navy to beat Temple. With Mauti leading the way, that shouldn’t be a problem for this defense. The kid is a natural leader who plays with his hair on fire. This is his type of hard-nosed game and he’ll probably make a big play at some point. But, that’s just the norm for this guy.
Temple’s running game vs. Penn State’s run defense. Temple wants to run the ball early and often in this one on the road in a hostile environment. Knowing this, and being familiar with the Owls, the Nittany Lions will stack the box with eight or nine men and force Temple to beat them through the air. This matchup favors Penn State anyway you slice it unless the Owls can establish an effective running game. If the Owls get behind early and are forced to throw, it plays right into the hands of Penn State’s defense and pass rush.
Prediction: Penn State 31 Temple 13. Just too much defense for the Owls in this one. The Nittany Lions defense is only getting better, which doesn’t bode well for the visitors. What also doesn’t bode well is that the Lions finally showed off Bill O’Brien’s aerial attack last Saturday and impressed thoroughly. Thanks to the success of the passing game last week, coach O’Brien and Co. will want to sling it around this weekend, making matters worse for an already outmanned Temple defense. Penn State gets to 2-2 to close out non-conference play heading into their Big Ten schedule.