STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — For someone who hasn’t been paying attention for the past two years, Temple’s 24–13 loss to Penn State on Saturday probably looked like just another typical defeat amongst the Owls’ regrettable history against the Nittany Lions.
Penn State’s win was the 37th consecutive victory and the 38th overall in a series that dates back to 1931. Since the series was revived in 1975 after a 23-year break, Joe Paterno led the Nittany Lions to 28 wins against the Owls, and most of the games weren’t close.
The average margin of victory in a Penn State versus Temple game when Paterno was coach was 25. There were 13 occasions when the Owls were shut out or held to only one score and 13 occasions when the Nittany Lions scored 40 points or more.
As part of the series’ recent seven-game agreement that has taken place during the second half of the last decade, Temple was outscored 154-9 in former Owls’ coach Al Golden’s first four games against Penn State.
But in the past two years, things have been different in games that were very winnable for Temple.
Golden led an inspired effort at Beaver Stadium in 2010 where the Owls led at halftime before being shut out in the second half and losing 22-13. In coach Steve Addazio’s first year with the team last season, Temple led for more than three quarters of the game, but a Nittany Lions’ touchdown with two minutes and 42 seconds left in the game gave way to a 14-10 Penn State win.
Temple’s efforts against Penn State in the last two seasons, and its subsequent rise to the Big East Conference, made Saturday’s game a matchup of equals, not the unfairly perpetuated rivalry that embarrassed the Owls in years past.
Unfortunately for the Owls, the team that showed up Saturday in front of a crowd of more than 92,000 and a nationally televised audience couldn’t prove to the rest of the country, which has been operating under the idea that Penn State is better than Temple at football for more than 70 years, wrong.
In outgaining the Owls by a margin of 491 to 237 yards, Penn State exposed the holes in Temple’s defense, which had problems pressuring Nittany Lions’ senior quarterback Matt McGloin, covering and tackling all game.
McGloin went 24-for-36 passing for a career high 318 yards and a touchdown, and added two rushing touchdowns. Nine different Penn State wide receivers recorded a reception.
“[McGloin] had a tremendous amount of time back there,” Addazio said. “You give a quarterback that much time, they’re going to make some plays. We knew we had to pressure him, but we gave him too much opportunity to sit back and throw the ball.”
On the game’s first score, Owls’ junior defensive back Zamel Johnson and senior defensive back Vaughn Carraway blew coverage on Nittany Lions’ sophomore wide receiver Allen Robinson and allowed him to split the two defenders on a 41-yard scamper to the end zone.
“[Robinson] just got up and made a play,” Johnson said. “I knew the slant was coming, so I played heavy on the slant. I feel like he gave me a little push off when he jumped, but in the end he made the play and I didn’t.”
The 184 rushing yards allowed was a season high for Temple. Nittany Lions’ junior running back Zach Zwinak rushed 18 times for 94 yards and senior fullback Michael Zordich rushed 15 times for 77 yards.
“As a unit, we need to come together and make plays like we usually do,” redshirt-senior linebacker Nate D. Smith said. “We have to make the plays that are presented to us.”
Offensively, the Owls gained a season low of 237 total yards and 124 passing yards. Redshirt-junior Chris Coyer went 13-for-26 passing for one touchdown, and led the team with 84 yards rushing.
“We definitely had some struggles,” Coyer said. “I need to throw it better and they need to catch it better. [Penn State] started having success early with pressure and we never really got on track.”
Coyer overthrew junior tight end Cody Booth, who was wide open in the end zone with 10 minutes and 29 seconds left in the second quarter, forcing the Owls to settle for a field goal. Addazio said missed opportunities are what cost the team the game and that the Owls need to make more big plays.
“There’s a series of those plays, and you have to make more than you don’t,” Addazio said. “We have to throw and catch on a much more consistent basis.”
“We put in two good weeks of work of preparation, so it definitely hurts to miss on those opportunities in this game,” Coyer said.
The Owls’ running backs were almost a total non-factor. Senior running backs Matt Brown and Montel Harris rushed 14 times for a combined 49 yards.
“They’re very strong up front,” Harris said. “They have two great defensive tackles that fly around to the ball. That’s definitely the best front we’ve faced so far.”
While progress has been made against Penn State in the past two years, the Owls said after Saturday’s game they’re more concerned with facing the problems that await them this season.
“I like our team,” Addazio said. “It’s a young team, but it’s our job as a staff to build it, and we will.”
“I’m anxious to watch the film and teach off that tape,” Addazio added. “We have a bye week. We needed the last one and this one to develop the team heading into Big East play.”
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joey_cranney.