After the Owls’ eighth sack of the game, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg walked slowly toward his team’s sideline shaking his head—almost in disbelief of what was happening.
The Owls sacked Hackenberg 10 times—an American Athletic Conference record—in Temple’s 27-10 victory Saturday against the Nittany Lions.
Junior defensive lineman Sharif Finch said the hits took more than a physical toll on the quarterback.
“When you hit him a lot, he’s going to get rattled,” said Finch, who had an interception return to the Penn State two-yard line in the win. “We looked into his eyes and he was dazed out there. He was not locked in like he was in the beginning of the game. … We saw the look on his face and that’s when we turned it up.”
Wearing down Penn State’s quarterback took a group effort from Temple’s defense.
Senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich tallied thee sacks to lead the Owls, and senior defensive lineman Nate D. Smith followed with two sacks.
In total, seven Temple players got to Hackenberg in the game.
“Everybody’s got their job to do,” Smith said. “On certain plays you gotta go this way. You gotta make a right, make a left. Everybody just did their jobs and after you do the job, make the play.”
Temple’s defense, which recorded 26 sacks in 2014, set the standard at 40 sacks for itself this year. The unit is one-fourth of the way to its goal after one game.
“It comes from inside of the team like everybody has that drive, that competition,” Finch said of the team’s desire to sack the quarterback. “If some guy gets two sacks, some guy gets one, I’m trying to get two. I didn’t even get a sack. I was kind of disappointed.”
On its first three drives of Saturday’s game, Penn State’s offense totaled 10 points and 131 yards of offense and converted four first downs.
Temple’s defense shut the Nittany Lions out for the rest of the contest, limiting Penn State to five first downs and 49 yards of offense after its first two possessions.
Defensive coordinator Phil Snow predicted the Owls’ defensive fate prior to kickoff.
“Coach Snow before the game told us, ‘[Penn State] is going to come out and score on their first drive and probably score on the second,’” Matakevich said. “‘Then you guys are going to relax.’ And that is what happened. He is a mind-teller.”
The Temple defense held Hackenberg to 11 completions on 25 attempts for 103 yards Saturday.
The Owls’ pass rushers put pressure on the quarterback even when they were unable to bring him down—specifically on third down, as Temple held Penn State to 2 of 13 on third-down attempts.
Coach Matt Rhule credited Snow and the rest of the defensive coaching staff along with his players’ execution for the defensive success.
“They went from three down to four down, max blitz, three-man rush,” Rhule said of the defensive play calls. “They gave them a lot of defensive looks and I thought our defensive line made a lot of plays.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.