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Penn State Football: Former Pushover Temple Now a Benchmark Game

by on September 20, 2012 6:00 AM

When it comes to Temple, Penn State football has been on a downward trend.

We’re talking the past two seasons, not the past 60 or 70.

Lately, Temple has been getting closer to Penn State. Much closer.

That’s why if Penn State wins by more than a touchdown on Saturday in Beaver Stadium, Bill O’Brien’s squad will halt what has been a precipitous slide for Nittany Lion football.

While Penn State may lead the series 30-3-1 -- last losing in 1941, last tying in 1949 and vacating its last seven victories – the Temple game here and now has a much greater import than any of those back there and then.

O’Brien was emphatic in making that point on Tuesday: “Every year is different. I don't know what they were like in 1940, but in 2012 this is an excellent Temple team with a bunch of good players.”

Saturday’s contest can serve as a benchmark, of sorts. Under a pair of younger, high-energy motivated coaches, Temple has played Penn State almost even-steven the past two seasons. Now, with a younger, high-energy motivated coach of its own, Penn State is essentially starting over. Starting over because Temple has almost pulled even, because a new system is in place, because of the past 11 months.

A few years ago now seems more like a few decades. If you’re scoring at home:

From 2006-09, Penn State beat Temple by an aggregate score of 154-9 (47-0, 31-0, 45-3, 31-6). In the first game of that set, Joe Paterno watched from home following surgery, which mattered little as Penn State showed no mercy in roundly beating Al Golden, a former PSU team captain and assistant coach, in his first season as the Owls’ head coach.

By 2010, the Owls under Golden fell to Penn State, 22-13. And then last season, under first-year coach Steve Addazio, the Owls lost 14-10 after holding the lead almost the entire game. Penn State won by a combined 36-23, but both were severe nail-biters.

Just as telling over the past two seasons is that Temple led or was tied for almost two-thirds of those games – 79:46 of 120 minutes.

Two years ago, Temple led into the game’s third quarter and last season at the Link in Philadelphia Penn State needed a fourth-quarter interception by Michael Mauti to set up a 44-yard scoring drive that culminated in the winning touchdown with only 162 seconds remaining.

On that final drive, Rob Bolden, Derek Moye, Devon Smith, Silas Redd, Andrew Szczerba, Brandon Beachum and Joe Suhey each caught, threw, ran or dropped the ball. All are gone. Among skill players on that drive, only Allen Robinson (eight-yard catch) and Michael Zordich (one-yard TD run) remain.

The rapid Penn State decline can be traced to several factors, including: the leadership of Golden and Addazio; higher-caliber Temple players; Paterno’s health issues that impacted his ability to be hands-on and on the field; and Penn State buying into the series’ history and underestimating Temple.

Notable, too, is that of the seven departed Penn State players noted above, only two (Redd and Moye) were both reliable and talented enough to be every-down players.

Also notable is that of the two Penn State players who do remain, both are reliable and talented. Very much so. As such, Robinson and Zordich will play pivotal roles on Saturday, when – for this series – it is a whole new ballgame.

“It started when Al Golden went there, and Steve Addazio has done a great job of keeping it going,” apprised O’Brien. “Temple is a good football team.”

How good?

So much so, that in three short years the Owls have emerged as a barometer in determining whether Penn State is too.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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