Playing against a team boasting more sacks per game than any team in the nation, it was reasonable to believe Temple quarterback Vaughn Charlton would see his fair share of the turf Saturday.
But a game plan that called for short, quick passes, and an offensive line that withheld the blitz, allowed Charlton to put forth one of his better – if not his best – performance as the Owls’ signal caller.
Charlton established career-bests in completions, attempts and passing yards, going 26-of-43 for 238 yards in the Owls’ 31-0 loss to No. 25 Penn State at Lincoln Financial Field. He failed to toss a touchdown pass, but he didn’t throw an interception, either.
“He made some good throws,” Temple coach Al Golden said. “We misconnected on a few, we dropped a few, but I thought he did a pretty good job.”
Charlton deflected the praise.
“It’s all on the lineman and the wide receivers,” Charlton said. “Our game plan going into the game was to get rid of the ball fast and get rid of the Penn State blitz and the pressure and the sacks. I think [the linemen] are what you have to applaud.”
The Nittany Lions (8-3) sacked Charlton four times, but that wasn’t detrimental, especially considering the Owls (3-7) entered the game ranked 109th among the 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in sacks allowed, surrendering 3.3 per game.
Left tackle Devin Tyler said the line utilized a technique in which members stayed on their feet and lunged toward the pass rushers. For the most part it worked, as the Owls held heralded pass rusher Maurice Evans without a sack. Evans entered the game owning 12.5 sacks.
“We were ready for it,” Tyler said. “They did everything we expected them to do, we just didn’t execute a couple times in the red zone.”
On the opening drive, Charlton drove the Owls 80 yards to the Lions’ 7-yard line, but kicker Jake Brownell failed to give the Owls an early lead, missing a 23-yard field goal.
Charlton led the Owls into the red zone twice more in the first half, but again the Owls couldn’t capitalize.
On the Owls’ third drive of the day, Charlton orchestrated a 49-yard charge to the Lions’ 8-yard line, completing six passes for 55 yards (a holding penalty cost the Owls 10 yards).
On second-and-eight at the 8-yard line, the Owls’ called a trick play, sending in receiver Dy’Onne Crudup as the quarterback. The Owls were promptly hit with a false start penalty.
A failed run and an incompletion set up fourth-and-goal on the Penn State 13-yard line. The Owls then faked a field goal. Charlton found Matt Balasavage open in the end zone, but the freshman tight end dropped the ball.
“The design play is to go back to the kicker,” Charlton said. “I scrambled out and didn’t see him there so I tried to make a play, and obviously it didn’t work out. But you’ve got to move on from there.”
Charlton completed all three of his passes on the Owls’ next drive, which saw Temple charge all the way to the Lions’ 14-yard line, when another attempt at trickery left the Owls empty-handed.
This time, Bruce Francis fumbled in the backfield on a two-pitch trick play, leaving the Owls’ 0-for-3 in the red zone in the first half. They finished 0-for-4 on the day.
Golden opted to keep the ball airborne pretty much all game. The Owls called 43 pass plays to 23 rushing plays.
“Nobody can block them,” Golden said of the Lions’ defense. “Two big, strong tackles, rotating ends in there – that’s a good defense.
“…They have linebackers who can run. They have safeties who can run the defense and they have corners who can cover. That’s a good defense. Nobody can run the ball.”
Neither could the Owls, who accumulated just four yards on the ground.
Still, Temple’s performance was much better than last season, when they failed to cross midfield in a 47-0 loss at Beaver Stadium.
“Our guys came out and they played hard, and they played with emotion,” Golden said. “They didn’t back down and they played with toughness. It’s not good enough to win, but it keeps you on the field for a while. We just have to make some of those plays that we did not convert.”
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.