For the first time this season, the statistics mattered for the Owls’ offense and the number three stuck out for coach Steve Addazio.
“Turned the ball over three times,” Addazio said at the start of the press conference. “Can’t win like that.”
Penn State (2-1) came from behind in the fourth quarter to defeat the Owls 14-10 at the Lincoln Financial Field today. The crowd wasn’t a sellout, like it was last time the Nittany Lions visited Philadelphia in 2007, but the attendance of 57,323 was the second highest attendance at the stadium and the third highest in program history. It was estimated that more than 10,000 Temple students also were in attendance for a new record.
Temple (2-1) took an early led after junior running back Bernard Pierce scored on a two-yard rush in the team’s opening drive. A 40-yard field goal by junior placekicker Brandon McManus with less than a minute left in the first half gave the Owls a 10-7 advantage after the Nittany Lions were able to score on a 17-yard run about four minutes earlier.
“I tried to tell people this is as good a Temple team that I’ve ever seen,” coach Joe Paterno said. I don’t think people realize just how good their one running back [Pierce] is. He’s a good back. We did a good job handling him.”
The Owls could not get their potent running game together, as they managed five rushing yards in all of the second half and a total of 74 yards at the end of the game. Temple came into the game with the second-best rushing offensive in the Mid-Atlantic Conference averaging more than 270 yards on the ground.
Pierce ended the game with 50 yards on 17 rushing attempts for an average of less than three yards per attempt. Junior running back Matt Brown added 11 yards on two attempts and redshirt senior quarterback Chester Stewart gained 16 rushing yards on nine attempts.
The leading rusher for the Nittany Lions, sophomore running back Silas Redd, gained a game-high 86 yards on 16 attempts and scored the rushing touchdown for Penn State in the second quarter.
“I think we were running the ball alright at first and they started stacking the box a little more,” redshirt junior quarterback Mike Gerardi said.
Gerardi added the team’s inability to have an effective running game against Penn State affected the offense’s rhythm and its game plan.
The Owls’ special teams played a factor in the field position battle during the end of both the second and third quarters. Temple was able to block a 49-yard field goal by freshman placekicker Sam Ficken and a punt by sophomore punter Anthony Fera.
Despite the fact Penn State had more total offensive yards heading into the fourth quarter, as the Nittany Lions held a 250-158 advantage in that category, the Owls still led 10-7.
Both teams used two quarterbacks in the game to try to mix up their offensive sets. Penn State used sophomore Rob Bolden (9-17-1, 92 yards) to start the game and then in the second quarter junior Matt McGloin (13-19-0 124 yards) received snaps. For the Owls, Gerardi (9-22-2 95) played until the final series of the first half when Stewart (3-6-0 28) entered the game. Gerardi returned at the start of the fourth quarter and closed the game out.
“We felt if we struggled in the game with their defensive front, we would go to Chester and start to exercise some spread option in there, which we did,” Addazio said. “It gave us a little bit of a boost, not a ton, but a little bit that’s for sure.”
When the Owls were able to get the ball back after Penn State’s fifth punt of the game in the forth quarter, they appeared to have a shot to control the game.
But back-to-back interceptions by Gerardi in the following offensive drives caused the Owls to stall. The two passes, picked off by senior cornerback Chaz Powell and junior linebacker Michael Mauti, were a couple of plays that Gerardi would like to do-over.
“Those were just bad throws,” Gerardi said. “I saw the guy was open just didn’t lead him enough and when you play a good team like Penn State, they’re going to make you pay for it and that’s what they did.”
Penn State used the field position that the second interception gave them to start their game-winning drive at Temple’s 44-yard line with less than nine minutes remaining in the game. After a series of completed passes by Penn State’s Bolden, the Owls’ defense was pinned on their own three-yard line.
“We were anticipating a fullback dive or possibly an option,” senior linebacker Tahir Whitehead said of the play. “They got a little push and they ended up getting the first down.”
Junior tailback Brandon Beachum gained two yards on the fourth down conversion and then junior running back Michael Zordich punched in a one-yard rushing touchdown for Penn State to take a 14-10 lead.
“We can’t put our defense in that situation,” Addazio said. “It’s one thing to punt the ball, make them work the field, and let your defense try to win the game. It’s another thing to give them the ball, right there on the plus side of the 50, you’re asking for it. The defense gets worn down and you just cannot do that.”
“I thought we still had a shot at the end with the two minute drill,” Addazio added. “We got ourselves out of the pocket a little bit, didn’t execute the plays that were there to be executed.”
Gerardi led the final drive for the Owls with two minutes and 33 seconds remaining from Temple’s 36-yard line. But after 10 plays, the game ended with Gerardi taking a sack from junior defensive end Sean Stanley at Penn State’s 34-yard line.
“I didn’t feel the guy coming behind me,” Gerardi said. “I feel like if I had another half of second I probably would have had a good shot to hit Deon [Miller] over the middle.”
“All of us are going to try to learn from the mistakes we made,” Gerardi added.
Connor Showalter can by reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.