STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Trailing by 10 points with seven minutes, 20 seconds remaining, the Owls had a chance to make one final push Saturday at Beaver Stadium in State College.
Senior quarterback Phillip Walker completed a comeback route to junior receiver Adonis Jennings on the sideline on 4th-and-8, then followed with two more completions to put Temple just outside Penn State’s red zone. Then the Owls started moving backwards.
A false start on senior offensive lineman Dion Dawkins and a sack two plays later eventually led to a field goal by junior kicker Austin Jones with 2:10 left in the game. Six of the Owls’ 13 penalties came on the offensive side of the ball in Temple’s 34-27 loss to Penn State.
“It kills the momentum, it changes the play calling,” senior running back Jahad Thomas said of the penalties. “So if we had something dialed up for second and three, now we’ve got to resort back to another play call. So it just kills drives, and self-inflicted wounds are crucial especially against at top notch team like this. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Penalties disrupted the offense’s flow on Saturday and even cost the team a touchdown. With 5:14 left in the third quarter, Temple tried a trick play from Penn State’s 34-yard line. The Owls ran a double-pass play that ended with a pass from Walker to redshirt-sophomore receiver Marshall Ellick down the left sideline for a touchdown.
Several players ran down the field celebrating the score, only to be tempered by the sight of a flag on the field. Dawkins, who committed three penalties in the second half, was whistled for a block in the back, negating the play. Temple couldn’t move the ball after the penalty and had to punt.
“The one penalty on the one touchdown, it’s a seven point game we scored a touchdown, it gets called back. … It’s like anything else,” coach Matt Rhule said. “It’s harder to win on the road if you beat yourself with penalties and we overcame a lot of them. But not all of them, and that’s when you end up being a play short in a game, and that’s frustrating.”
False starts slowed drives throughout the game, as the 100,420 people at Beaver Stadium made enough noise to cause communication issues. Walker took the blame, saying he should have used the silent count instead.
The penalties hampered the Owls’ offensive attack, which improved with Thomas’ return after missing the season’s first two games with a dislocated thumb. He made an immediate impact on Saturday, scoring an eight-yard rushing touchdown on his first carry.
Thomas finished with 52 yards rushing, but a series of sacks and tackles for losses resulted in Temple rushing for only 38 yards as a team. Both of Thomas’ rushing touchdowns came on jet sweeps. He also added 48 receiving yards on six catches.
The Owls got 324 total yards, their highest total in a game this year. After struggling to get in a rhythm in the first half, the Owls outscored Penn State 17-13 in the final 30 minutes. Temple went 0-for-5 on third and fourth downs in the first half. The Owls made five third and fourth down conversions in the second half, including a one-yard touchdown run by Walker on fourth-and-goal when he leaped across the goal line while colliding with a Penn State defender
Walker, who completed less than 50 percent of his passes in the team’s first two games, finished 25-for-34 with 286 yards and one interception on his last throw of the game. He threw four interceptions at Happy Valley in 2014, when he was a “young guy” who didn’t know how to “handle the atmosphere.”
The senior quarterback hit nine different receivers Saturday including redshirt-junior Keith Kirkwood five times for 57 yards and redshirt-senior Romond Deloatch for a 67-yard pass in the first quarter. Three other players had three or more catches.
“[I] just was able to spread the ball,” Walker said. “I think my O-line did a great job and they protected well in the beginning of the game and in the second half. We struggled with a couple of twists at times, but just me getting the opportunity to scramble around make plays on the run, I think that helped us offensively a lot.”
With Thomas back in the lineup, Temple hopes to build on its offensive progress and correct its mistakes in Saturday’s homecoming game.
“We don’t have moral victories in our locker room,” Walker said. “That’s not who we are. We’re going to go out there, we’re going to dwell on this loss. We felt like we played good, but we didn’t play good enough because we lost. So we’re just going to go out there and keep preparing and just keep playing better.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.