By digging itself into a hole with a 36–27 loss to Maryland, the football team has made its annual matchup against top rival Penn State more difficult.
Temple (1–1) will travel to State College, Pa., this weekend to battle with Penn State (1–2) for the 42nd time in a rivalry that dates back prior to World War II. Temple hasn’t defeated Penn State since 1941, but after week two’s loss to the Terrapins that featured five fumbles and seven penalties, the Owls said they’re more concerned about beating themselves.
“We definitely didn’t execute our plan against Maryland, but this week we can definitely do it,” redshirt-freshman linebacker Nate D. Smith said.
Temple used its bye week to work on fundamentals, right the wrongs from the Maryland loss and get itself back to where it needs to be mentally. Redshirt-junior quarterback Chris Coyer said the young Owls’ roster responded well to the bye week.
“We’ve gotten back to us,” Coyer said. “We got a chance to go full speed and play against each other. It’s good to get that going.”
For the second game in a row, the Owls’ run-heavy offense will compete against a stingy run defense. Maryland has allowed an average of 103 rushing yards per game after holding the Owls to 52 yards rushing on Sept. 8. Penn State is giving up 154 rushing yards per game.
The Nittany Lions’ defense is anchored by senior linebacker Michael Mauti, who leads the team with 21 tackles. Mauti, a preseason All-Big Ten First Team selection, looks like he’s in midseason form so far this year despite missing nearly all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
The Owls ran the ball 47 times for 301 yards against Villanova in the team’s 41-10 season-opening win. Coach Steve Addazio said after the first game that it established the team’s identity of rushing the football.
“It’s game one. I wanted to get the tempo set for what kind of team we were going to be,” Addazio said. “On offense we faced nine man boxes and we ran the ball effectively. We rushed for over 300 yards.”
But Temple didn’t have as easy of a time against Maryland’s superior run defense. The Owls didn’t get the run game going early, throwing off the offensive flow for the rest of the game. Temple rushed 39 times for 52 yards against the Terrapins. The Owls were forced to rely on the efforts of its passing game in the second half, which ultimately fell short.
“We didn’t come out with a power run mindset, establish the run and work off of that,” Addazio said after the Maryland contest. “We came out with a mindset that we would utilize more weapons and don’t put the ball on the ground and that didn’t come out great.”
With a clear picture from the first two weeks of what happens when Temple runs the ball effectively and what happens when it doesn’t, the Owls said they know that running the ball is the key to their success against Penn State.
“They’ve got a tough front,” Coyer said. “They’ve got a good defense. They’re very stout against the run. We know that’s going to be tough. We’ll see what we can do against them.”
While the mistakes Temple made on offense against Maryland hindered the Owls’ ability to get anything going, the defense’s missed opportunities kept letting the Terrapins off the hook.
The Owls staged a comeback in the second half against Maryland, but almost every time Temple needed its defense to make a stop, the Owls let up a big play. The most excruciating of which came with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter with the Owls down two and the Terrapins facing 3rd and 11, when true freshman quarterback Perry Hills completed a 38-yard pass to true freshman wide receiver Stefon Diggs to ice the game.
Addazio said that the defense needs to work on letting up big plays after both the Villanova and Maryland games. Temple let up an average of 13.9 yards per completion against the Wildcats.
When scouting Penn State and its offense led by senior quarterback Matthew McGloin who threw four touchdowns last week, Smith said the defense will be better prepared for McGloin as opposed to the freshmen it faced the first two weeks.
“It’s going to be fun, though,” Smith said. “I’m going to enjoy myself and just go out there and play my game.”
Coyer said a road win against the team’s biggest rival on Saturday would be the kick in the pants the team needs to get back on track after its inconsistent start.
“It would absolutely be huge,” Coyer said. “We’re coming off a loss where we feel like we didn’t play our best game. We thought we had a chance to win. We need to get the momentum going into Big East play.”
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joey_cranney.