All of the elements crashed down upon Al Golden in the week leading up to Temple’s game against Penn State last season.
Golden, a three-year letter winner as a player for the Nittany Lions from 1989 to 1991, was showered with questions about his return to Happy Valley only minutes after the Owls lost to Central Michigan last November. Once game time arrived, dark clouds hovered over Beaver Stadium and a steady downpour drenched the field as the Nittany Lions reigned over the Owls in a 47-0 win.
This weekend, the storm returns.
The Owls (3-6 overall, 3-3 in the Mid-American Conference) take on Penn State Saturday in what will be the highest-attended Temple football game since the program started playing its home contests at Lincoln Financial Field in 2003. More than 66,000 fans will watch Golden match wits with his former mentor, legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno.
Single game tickets for the highly-anticipated game were sold out in August.
“I think it’s important that we don’t place any extra value on this game,” Golden said. “It’s already had enough value placed on it.”
The Owls’ previous game held more significance, Golden said.
After winning three consecutive games for the first time since 1990, the Owls lost to Ohio, 23-7, at Peden Stadium Saturday. The loss mathematically eliminated the Owls from the MAC East Division race.
Against the Bobcats, sophomore quarterback Vaughn Charlton made his first start in more than a year after red-shirt junior Adam DiMichele suffered a season-ending injury to his left tibia against Miami (Ohio) on Oct. 20.
After putting up an average of 21.3 points in their three wins, the Owls were held scoreless in the second half against Ohio.
The team is still adjusting to Charlton under center, junior wide receiver Bruce Francis said.
“We still don’t have that cohesiveness that we did with Adam because we’ve played with Adam for however many games, and this is Vaughn’s first true game of the season,” Francis said. “So it is a little rocky at times.”
The Nittany Lions (7-3, 3-3 Big Ten Conference) haven’t had a rocky season, but they also haven’t lived up to preseason expectations.
Penn State was ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press Top 25 at the start of the season and had goals of reaching a Bowl Championship Series game.
But after conference losses to Michigan, Illinois and Penn State, that goal has turned into a fantasy.
Despite falling short of Bowl expectations, the Nittany Lions still have the respect of the Owls players.
“We’re just going to keep in mind that they’re a real good team,” Junior Galette said. “We’ve just got to come out and be focused and not let it distract us.”
The Nittany Lions are led by senior quarterback Anthony Morelli and senior linebacker Dan Connor.
This season, Morelli has completed 59.7 of his passes, while throwing for 2,060 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Connor, a Butkus Award contender, has continued the Penn State’s tradition of “Linebacker U.” The 6-foot-3, 233-pound Wallingford, Pa.-native leads the team in tackles with 105, while 12 of his stops have gone for losses.
But Connor isn’t the only dangerous player on the Nittany Lions defense.
Sophomore defensive end Maurice Evans leads the team with 12.5 sacks. The Nittany Lions rank No. 1 in the Big Ten with 40 sacks.
Meanwhile, the Owls are dead last in the MAC in protecting the quarterback, allowing 30 sacks in nine games.
“We just cannot make it commonplace,” Golden said about the pressure the Nittany Lions bring. “We have to do a good job protecting [Charlton]. It’s going to be hard to do without a running game.”
Against Ohio, the Owls could only muster 48 yards on 31 rushing attempts.
On the other side of the ball, the Nittany Lions have two running backs in senior Rodney Kinlaw and freshman Evan Royster who have the ability to break a big run. Kinlaw has rushed for 893 yards and seven touchdowns while Royster has gained 435 yards on the ground and scored four touchdowns.
The Owls will likely see more of Royster in 2009 when they play the Nittany Lions for the third time in four years.
“I think we’ll be playing them for quite some time,” Golden said about the future of the matchup “I think it’s a win-win for both programs … For us, it makes sense financially and it also makes sense to have a state rival.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.