The following 1,078 words don’t mean Temple is going to upset Penn State on Saturday.
I don’t think the Owls will.
But, if recent history is any guide, the potential exists for Penn State head coach James Franklin to be a bit upset by how close the final score is.
Penn State has faced Temple four times against three Owl head coaches over the past five years – the ‘ole 3-4-5 – and has won by an average of 10.25 points: 9, 4, 11 and 17.
And even the 17-point margin of victory last season, which came via a 30-13 victory in Week 10, was deceiving. Penn State only led 6-3 at the half and 20-13 at the end of the third quarter. The real difference came in the fourth quarter on a 30-yard pick six by Nittany Lion freshman corner Grant Haley, one of four second-half interceptions by the PSU defense.
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg had a particularly bad day, completing 12 of 26 passes for 112 yards and two picks. As late as 6:50 to go in the third quarter, the game was a yawner and tied 6-6, as 14 consecutive drives prior to that yielded only a field goal by each team.
FIRST QUARTER BLUES
Temple has been anything but easy pickins’ for PSU, before and after the sanctions. The Owls have kept it tight for most of the game since 2010. They led after both the first quarter and second quarter in both 2010 and 2011. Over the past half-decade, the quarter-by-quarter cumulative tally looks like this: End of first quarter – Temple ahead, 23-16; halftime, Penn State ahead, 36-29; third quarter, Penn State ahead, 66-42; and final score, Penn State ahead, 90-49.
The last time Penn State visited Lincoln Financial Field was in 2010 -- and it was not pretty. With Joe Paterno watching from the press box, the Nittany Lions needed a 1-yard run from Michael Zordich with 2:42 left in the game and then a sack of the Temple QB on fourth down in Penn State territory to seal the win. Usual-wide receiver Evan Lewis missed field goals from 36 and 45 yards, while freshman Sam Ficken had his only attempt that season blocked, from 49 yards at the end of the first half.
In that game, and the other three over the past half-decade, defense has saved the day, as the Owls have never scored more than 13 points in a single contest, because the more-talented Penn State defense simply wore down Temple. But no matter who the coaches have been in that stretch, Temple has played Penn State tight.
Joe Paterno, Penn State – wins 22-13 in 2010 at home; wins 14-10 in 2011 at The Linc, site of Saturday’s season opener for both teams. Temple’s coach in 2010: former Nittany Lion Al Golden. In 2011: Steve Adazzio.
Bill O’Brien, Penn State – wins 24-13 in 2012 at home. Temple’s coach: Addazio (who was Boston College’s head coach in its 31-30 loss to Penn State in the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl).
James Franklin, Penn State – wins 30-13 in 2014 at home, one of only two Penn State wins in an eight-game stretch (13-7 at Indiana was the other.) Temple’s coach: former Nittany Lion Matt Rhule.
The Nittany Lions’ win last year extended their winning streak against Temple to 32 games and their unbeaten streak to 40 games. The teams tied 7-7 at Penn State in 1950, and Temple last won in 1941, 7-6 in Philadelphia. Penn State leads the series 40-3-1, with all three of the Owls’ victories coming at home at least four generations ago (1931, 1932 and 1941).
That was then and this is now. Still, Vegas still anticipates a close contest. Four major Las Vegas sports books have Penn State as a 6.5- to 7-point favorite. Click here to see the official betting lines.
A PIA FOR PSU
So, why does Temple do so (relatively) on the Nittany Lions – at least lately and at least for a good (for the Owls) three quarters of the game? The sanctions certainly have had a hand in it. But two of the games (victories by a total of 13 points) came before those hit. Here are six theories, which by taking the first letter of each reasons creates the acronym B-A-R-E-L-Y:
BROTHERLY LOVE – NOT: Even though Penn State fans comprise the bulk of the crowd in The Linc – as will be the case again Saturday for the 3:30 p.m. kick-off – the Nittany Lions have not played particularly well on the road. Penn State has hardly been the road warrior since 2010, going 14-13 away from Beaver Stadium.
ALMA MATER MATTERS: Like Golden (1987-91) before him, Rhule played his college football at Penn State (1994-97). That’s obviously extra motivation. Golden, a team captain in 1991 (along with current Penn State assistant coach, Terry Smith), was a Nittany Lion assistant coach for a season. The idea of beating his old boss Paterno lit a fire under Golden, who got as close as nine points in Beaver Stadium in 2010 after leading 13-9 at the half. Rhule is a State College native, so there’s extra impetus, too, while the Owls’ current defensive line coach, Elijah Robinson, was at Penn State for a decade – as a player, student assistant and grad assistant.
RED-HEADED STEPCHILD – My apologies. Not PC, but you get the idea. Temple plays in the American Athletic Conference and was even conference-less in the past decade. Since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, Temple has had 11 seasons in which it has had 0-, 1- or 2-win seasons. They’re not close to being equal, but the Owls just try harder against the Nittany Lions.
EARLY BIRDS – Penn State typically plays Temple in the first four games of the season, last year’s Nov. 15 the lone exception since 2010. (The last time PSU opened against Temple was in 2003, a 23-10 Penn State win, and before that in 1986, a 45-15 victory. Both came at home). The early games are often before the Nittany Lions have hit their stride. Penn State is obviously a lot better than it was in 2014, but a season opener is very often a crap shoot.
LINCOLN FINANCIAL FIELD – Penn State has played at The Linc twice, falling by four points in 2011, in a dull and fairly lifeless performance by both teams and the fans. Of course, 2007 was different: PSU won handily, 31-0, in the Philadelphia Eagles’ home stadium in Golden’s second year. The following stat is pro-Temple as Penn State has had a mixed bag of success in pro stadiums lately. It lost by 13 points (37-24 to Florida, Raymond James Stadium, 2011), won by 17 (41-24 to Indiana, FedEx Filed, 2011), won by 6 (23-17 to Syracuse, MetLife Stadium, 2012) and won by 1 (31-30 to BC, Yankee Stadium).
Y NOT? – Temple has nothing to lose and everything to gain. And the Owls – who had a Nittany Lion-like 6-6 record in 2014 -- could very well play like it. Penn State has the talent and depth to win, perhaps handily, but Vegas may know something we do not.