With the Owls trailing by 10 to Penn State last year, Jahad Thomas caught a pitch from Phillip Walker and took it to the end zone for a one-yard touchdown. It started a stretch of 27 unanswered points for the Owls, who went on to beat the Nittany Lions for the first time in 74 years.
Temple might be without Thomas for the third straight game when it travels to Beaver Stadium to play Penn State on Saturday as the senior running back recovers from a dislocated thumb. He rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns against the Nittany Lions last season. Thomas was practicing on Tuesday, but left early as he appeared to re-aggravate the injury.
Redshirt-senior tight end Colin Thompson practiced for a bit on Tuesday, until Rhule pulled him due to his limitations. Redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Ventell Bryant, who Rhule said could be out for a few weeks after the Stony Brook game, did not practice.
“To me it’s a matter of how well they practice and how they respond,” Rhule said regarding injured players trying to return to the lineup.
Walker has become Temple’s all-time leading passer and thrown three touchdowns through two games, but he’s completed less than 50 percent of his passes. In each game, a dropped pass by a receiver has led to an interception. Rhule wants the team to improve at catching passes and offensive line play, junior wide receiver Adonis Jennings said.
The Owls’ offense will face a defense ranked No. 12 in tackles for loss, but the Nittany Lions have shown some flaws. Pitt ran for 341 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry against Penn State last week.
Temple’s offense ranks No. 124 out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total offense through two weeks of the season. After facing a triple-option team that wouldn’t let Temple’s offense get in a rhythm and an FCS team, the Owls will be tested against Penn State.
“This will be a good game to really figure out who we are … we’re going to see who we really are and I believe that we’re a really good team,” Jennings said.
The Owls last visited Happy Valley on Nov. 15, 2014, when they fell 30-13 to the Nittany Lions in front of 100,173 people. The team played in front of sold out crowds last year at Lincoln Financial Field against the University of Notre Dame and Penn State, but still had a speaker on a golf cart simulating crowd noise at Tuesday’s practice.
When the speaker was shut off, Rhule said, “Thank God that’s over.” His team will experience the real thing on Saturday.
“It was pretty intense, it was pretty chaotic,” redshirt-junior wide receiver Keith Kirkwood said of the atmosphere during the 2014 game. “But with coach Rhule preparing us for the game, [it’s] definitely going to help us, motivate us, and get us ready for the game so when [Phillip] is making calls we’re able to hear the call and get up, line up and play fast.”
The Nittany Lions are listed as a nine-point favorite against the Owls, who have never beat Penn State at Beaver Stadium. It will be Penn State’s second-annual blue and white Stripe Out game, where the crowd coordinates color by section. The team will also recognize the 50th anniversary of former head coach Joe Paterno’s first game.
After playing each other 10 times in the past 11 years, Saturday’s matchup will be the last scheduled between the two teams under the agreement the schools extended in 2010.
Future classes will be missing out on something special, Walker said.
“It means a lot, just because it’s a big Pennsylvania thing and it shows who’s the best of the best,” Walker said. “We can show everybody what we’re capable of and, what we know we’re capable of and how Temple is as a program and probably was in the past everything like that. So we’ve just go to go out there and play, go out there and compete for each other.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling.