Saquon Barkley got past the Temple defensive line and broke through the linebackers. All that was left between the Penn State sophomore running back and the end zone was Sean Chandler and green grass.
Lined up head on with the Owls’ junior defensive back, Barkley faked left and cut right, making Chandler stumble in his tracks on his way to a 55-yard touchdown run with seven minutes, 20 seconds left in the game.
The late touchdown put Penn State up by two scores and proved to be the difference in Temple’s 34-27 loss to the Nittany Lions on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
“They made one more play than us,” coach Matt Rhule said. “I thought we did a good job against Barkley up until that last run, and obviously you can’t win a ball game when you allow a 55-yard run.”
Before the play, the Owls’ defense had bottled up the Penn State junior running back, who missed most of the first half with an injury, holding him to 10 yards on seven carries.
Temple also seemed to grab the momentum of the game, coming off a two-yard touchdown run by senior running back Jahad Thomas that closed the deficit to three points, 27-24, with just under 10 minutes left.
It was similar to last year’s game against Notre Dame when star receiver Will Fuller, who was kept in check all game, finally broke free in the back of the end zone for the game-winning touchdown after Temple grabbed the lead.
Rhule’s message after the Notre Dame game: “They made one more play.”
There were a few moments besides the Barkley run the Owls might wish they had back in Saturday’s contest. They didn’t execute defensively on a 52-yard touchdown catch by Penn State junior wide receiver Chris Godwin that started the game’s scoring. A handful of the Nittany Lions’ five third and fourth down conversions also led to touchdown drives.
Any one of the 13 penalties for 118 yards would have helped. An illegal block in the back took away a tricky double pass touchdown play. Two encroachment penalties on third down kept alive a first quarter drive by Penn State that ended with a three-yard run by freshman running back Andre Robinson to give the Nittany Lions a 14-7 lead.
“It just kills drive and self inflicted wounds are crucial especially against at top notch team like this,” Thomas said of the penalties. “We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Temple had a chance despite those mistakes.
After Penn State totaled 123 more yards of offense through the game’s first 29 minutes, the Owls drove six plays and 52 yards in 34 seconds to make the score 21-10 going into halftime. The drive ignited the Owls’ offense and senior quarterback Phillip Walker, who finished the game 25-of-34 for 286 yards passing.
After an interception by sophomore defensive back Delvon Randall gave Temple possession at the Penn State 9-yard line in the third quarter, Walker took a hit and dove over the Penn State defense for a one-yard score on third-and-goal to get the Owls within a touchdown with 1:50 left in the fourth.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to win, man,” Walker said. “That’s just straight up. If I’ve got to run outside the pocket, I’ll run if I got to scramble. If I’ve got to sit in the pocket and make a throw, I’ll sit in the pocket. Just to have that mentality that every play I got the ball in my hands and I’ve got to make a play.”
Senior running back Jahad Thomas, who missed the first two games with injury, helped Walker out with 14 carries for 52 yards and six catches for 48 yards.
Thomas ran in the Owls’ first score on an eight-yard jet sweep from the wide receiver position, which was similar to his fourth quarter touchdown.
“You’ve got to a get a guy like him the ball down there,” Walker said. “Just give the [defense] different things and just give him the opportunity to make a play. We welcomed him back today with a lot of touches and a lot of carries so I think he played really well.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Owen_McCue