By Mary Cunningham
Penn State opens training camp today for its second season under coach James Franklin, and in the back of most Nits’ fans’ minds is the opener on Sept, 5 against Temple at the Linc.
Last Meeting: Penn State 30, Temple 13 (2014)
The first half between Penn State and Temple was low-scoring, with Sam Ficken giving Penn State a narrow 6-3 lead going to the half. Midway through the third quarter things were knotted up at 6-6 before Penn State started to pull away. Akeel Lynch‘s 38-yard touchdown run came just 39 seconds after Temple tied the game at 6-6, and Bill Belton‘s eight-yard touchdown run a minute later seemed to seal things up early on. But a 75-yard touchdown pass from P.J. Walker to Jalen Fitzpatrick gave Temple life just 11 seconds later. Penn State put things away with a 30-yard pick-six from Grant Haley and a third Ficken field goal in the fourth quarter.
Temple’s 2014 at a Glance
Last season Temple managed to get to the six-win mark to break even on the year, but the Owls were left out of the postseason mix. The Owls saw a young crop of players that won just two games the season before start to take steps forward last fall. The season started off showing plenty of promise as the Owls dismantled James Franklin‘s former school, Vanderbilt, with a road 37-7 victory in SEC territory. That was huge for the Owls. Temple did suffer some double-digit losses on the road at Houston and UCF, but the Owls were the ones to practically eliminate East Carolina from the New Years Six conversation (ECU would crash and burn after losing in Philly). Temple also played Penn State, Memphis and Cincinnati about as tough as they could before losing those games. Temple lost to Memphis by three and Cincinnati by eight in a low-scoring decision. Both Memphis and Cincinnati earned a split of the American Athletic Conference championship, suggesting Temple was getting better and closer to competing for a conference title.
Temple is no Pushover
Penn State owns a decisive 44-3-1 all-time edge in the series, and the Owls have not won since 1941, but Temple has a good track record of giving Penn State a good fight in recent years. Last year’s game was closer than the score might indicate, and Penn State’s last trip to Philly saw the Nittany Lions squeak away with a 14-10 victory. The building of the Temple football program started with Al Golden changing the culture around the program, and now Matt Rhule is doing his part to continue moving forward. Rhule won just two games in his first year as head coach, but he took over a very young team with plenty fo room for improvement. That improvement started last season and the Owls picked up four more wins. Good things are happening, but the ceiling for Temple is still relatively low.
Temple Defense Can Be a Problem
This year’s Temple defense is widely considered to be the strength of the program, and deservingly so. Led by linebacker Tyler Matakevich, the Owls should be stingy and have what it takes to be a problem for Penn State’s offense in week one. This is especially true if Penn State’s offensive line starts off on the wrong foot. I have said before I believe the offensive line will improve from last fall for the Nittany Lions, but if it takes some time to come together then that is not a good sign against this Temple defense.
But What About the Offense?
A while back the crew over at The Student Section asked which team could be the biggest surprise in the American Athletic Conference. Temple was a trendy pick, and most of that is because of the defense. The offense, however, is a hit or miss part of the equation. Quarterback P.J. Walker has the potential to be a really fun player to watch, but he must improve his passing accuracy and efficiency if Temple’s offense is going to do its part. Temple averaged 23.1 points per game last season, while AAC co-champions Memphis and Cincinnati averaged at least 34.0 ppg. Temple also needs to improve inside the red zone. Last year Temple scored on just 69.05 percent of their red zone opportunities, with 17 touchdowns and 12 field goals on 42 red zone trips.
Who Should You Know?
Linebacker Tyler Matakevich is a player that just feels like he could easily be placed in the middle of Penn State’s defense. Anyone watching Temple football this season will hear that name plenty of times. He should be the key player on the outside for Temple against Penn State in the season opener. You should also know Temple quarterback P.J. Walker. He will try to run the football at times, which will keep Penn State’s defense guessing at times. If Walker can find any success through the air, he can open up his own running opportunities as well.
Temple has all of the ingredients to pull an upset of Penn State, if Penn State is not up to speed right off the bat. The defense is solid. Penn State’s offensive line is, until proven otherwise, a legitimate concern. Temple is playing at home, where they do play better it seems. Should Penn State beat Temple? Yes. Will they? Most likely. Should this game be marked down as an automatic win? Eh, not quite unless you want to go solely based on history.