The football team was blown out last year when it traveled to Penn State and on the surface, Saturday’s 31-0 loss doesn’t look much better than the 47-0 beating they took one year ago.
But what a difference a year makes.
The Owls stood toe-to-toe with the No. 25 team in the country for the entire first half. They were a few missed opportunities away from making it a game.
Sure, the Nittany Lions (8-3) put 17 points on the board in the first half, but the Owls (3-7) left at least 10 points on the field, with kicker Jake Brownell missing a 23-yard field goal attempt and tight end Matt Balasavage dropping a potential touchdown pass that hit him between the 8 and the 9 on his No. 89 jersey.
Temple racked up 194 yards of total offense before halftime Saturday versus the 74 yards of total offense the Owls compiled the entire game last season.
The Owls defense held its own against the Lions’ offensive live, providing constant pressure on quarterback Anthony Morelli and forcing him to fumble in the first half.
The Owls have continued to fight the entire season, being molded into the vision coach Al Golden has for his team.
“We’re on track. I’ll tell you right now,” Golden said. “We don’t back down. We didn’t have a lot of penalties today and it was easy to lose your poise in that environment.”
That environment was 69,029 screaming fans, which set a new record for a Mid-American Conference game in the Owls’ inaugural season in the conference. A large majority of those fans were decorated in navy blue and white, not cherry and white, giving it the feel of Happy Valley in Philadelphia.
The Owls played tough football against a team loaded with talent including All-American linebacker Dan Conner, who totaled 14.5 tackles.
But the Owls also played tough at Connecticut, currently ranked No. 13 in the nation. They dropped that game 22-17, but a highly controversial last-minute touchdown for the Owls was ruled incomplete, giving the Huskies the win.
That’s two teams ranked in the Top 25 that Temple has faced this season. And despite the Penn State score, the Owls hung tough in both games.
Saturday’s game against the Lions had its similarities to last year’s blowout loss in State College, PA.
Another Penn State running back topped 1,000 yards against the Owls. Philadelphia Eagles rookie Tony Hunt did the honors last year, while running back Rodney Kinlaw reached the four-digit rushing plateau Saturday.
But this is about the Owls. And the changes the last year has seen are obvious.
Temple’s defense allowed 62 or more points three times last season, including back-to-back 62-0 losses to Louisville and Minnesota.
Bowling Green’s 48 points against the Owls earlier this season marks the highest point total the team has surrendered. The Owls’ 35 points that game were the most points the team scored in three years.
The change is noticeable.
And it’s also rather simple.
“We grew up,” sophomore quarterback Vaughn Charlton said.
And, by no coincidence, the Owls’ win total has grown too.
The Owls’ three victories are the most by the team since 2002. And, more importantly, that total triples that of last year.
There are two games left for the Owls this season. It is feasible that the team could improve on the three wins they already own.
Hope still abounds that the team can defeat the teams left on the schedule.
Now there is proof that the team can compete with the best teams in the nation.
Well, two of them at least.
Terrance McNeil can be reached at email@example.com.