The Owls hope to beat Penn State for the first time in 70 years.
The last time Owls’ football beat Penn State, current 84-year-old Nittany Lions’ coach Joe Paterno was only 14 years old.
Paterno, the Penn State legend, has ensured that the Owls would not beat the Nittany Lions for as long as he is their coach. Paterno has faced off against the Owls 27 times, going a perfect 27-0.
The Owls will counter with new coach Steve Addazio, who beat Paterno and the Nittany Lions, 37-24, in the Outback Bowl at the end of last season as offensive coordinator for Florida.
Last year, the Owls put up their best performance against the Nittany Lions in nearly three decades. In last season’s game at Beaver Stadium, the Owls lost, 22-13. The nine-point deficit was the closest the Owls have come to beating Penn State since their effort in 1985, when the Owls lost, 27-25.
The Owls lead for the majority of the game last year, including after each of the first two quarters. It was the first time the Owls had ever lead in any game against Penn State since 1993.
Junior running back Bernard Pierce was the highlight for the Owls’ offense in last year’s contest. Pierce scored the Owls’ two touchdowns, but had to leave the game in the third quarter due to injury.
Defensively, the Owls didn’t let Penn State score a touchdown for the first three quarters and forced Nittany Lions’ senior placekicker Collin Wagner to kick a career-high five field goals. It wasn’t until halfway through the fourth quarter that Penn State finally found the end zone and sealed its 36th consecutive victory against the Owls.
If Pierce had stayed healthy for all of last year’s game, who knows what the Owls could have been able to accomplish.
This year represents a much different looking matchup. The Owls’ record stands at 2-0 after two wins against Villanova and the Akron. The Owls sit atop the Mid-American Conference standings with a 1-0 in-conference record.
Penn State is 1-1 and tied for eighth in the Big Ten Conference. After a 41-7 opening week victory over Indiana State, the Nittany Lions lost to No. 3 Alabama, 27-11, on Saturday.
The Owls’ offense returns a host of starters to the Penn State game, including a healthy Pierce, who has rushed for 297 yards and six touchdowns through the first two games of the season.
The Nittany Lions’ defensive line, led by junior defensive tackle Jordan Hill, will have their hands full trying to stop a healthy Pierce. Hill was impressive against Indiana State with five tackles and a fumble recovery. Hill had two tackles, including one for a loss, in last year’s game against the Owls.
Since the Owls lost safety Jaiquawn Jarrett and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson to the National Football League, returning players with increased roles have stepped up for the Cherry and White defense. Senior defensive back Kevin Kroboth leads the team with two interceptions and 10 tackles through the first two games. Senior defensive ends and team captains Adrian Robinson and Morkeith Brown have anchored a dominant defensive line that is tied for second in the nation with 10 sacks.
Robinson and Brown will try to slow down Nittany Lions’ sophomore running back Silas Redd, who has 169 yards rushing and three touchdowns in his first two games.
Much like the Owls, Penn State has been forced to play multiple quarterbacks so far this season. Nittany Lions’ sophomore quarterback Rob Bolden and senior quarterback Matt McGloin have both seen significant time at the head of the offense, but neither have been able to elevate themselves to the role of definite starter.
The Owls have started redshirt-junior quarterback Mike Gerardi in each of the first two games, but redshirt-sophomore Chris Coyer, sophomore Clinton Granger, and senior Chester Stewart have collected reps as well.
The matchup on Saturday is one of the most highly anticipated regular season home games for the Owls since the last time Penn State visited in 2007. The contest may come down to which of the two teams’ unproven quarterbacks can step up and win what promises to be one of the closest games in the series’ recent history.
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org