STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The football team’s offense hustled onto the field following
cornerback David Reese’s interception,
set to begin its first drive against Penn State Saturday on the 50-yard line.That was the closest the ball was spotted to the end zone all game for the Owls.
Despite the excellent field position,
the Owls never crossed the midfield line – not on that drive, or any other.
The Nittany Lions held the Owls to just two first downs while Penn State running
back Tony Hunt’s career-high 167 yards and four touchdowns provided the offense as the Lions downed the Owls, 47-0, at Beaver Stadium.
The score spoiled coach Al Golden’s return to his alma mater, though he deflected
questions about his return or Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s second absence in 41 years at the helm. Paterno was at home recovering from a broken left tibia and two torn ligaments in his knee.
“I know if Joe could have been there, he would have been there,” Golden said. “I’m sure he was dying, chomping at the bit to get back. They probably strapped him down to keep him out of the stadium.”
Lions assistant coach Tom Bradley, addressing the media in Paterno’s absence, said he could not recall the last time the Lions kept their opponents from crossing midfield, if such a feat ever happened at all.
One statistic, however, was certain.
The Owls’ 74 yards of total offense was the fewest it they totaled since setting a program-low 45 yards at Wisconsin last season.
The Lions, led by linebacker Paul Posluszny’s team-high three tackles for a loss, kept heavy pressure on Temple’s overmatched offensive line. The Owls struggled to create holes for running back Tim Brown and failed to provide much protection for quarterback Adam DiMichele,
who was often forced to scramble. Golden said the Owls, who have been blown out in each of their four games against what the coach called “upper echelon teams,” again suffered from inexperience.
“You look out there and Posluszny and [defensive tackle Jay] Alford and some of those guys they’re playing with, those guys are men,” Golden said. “Those guys are men, and we’re so young.”
Posluszny immediately declared his presence, bursting through the Owls’ offensive line and stripping the ball from wide receiver Travis Shelton on Temple’s first offensive play. The turnover marked the second consecutive week in which the Owls failed to capitalize after grabbing an interception on their opponent’s opening drive.
“I can’t tell you how important those plays are for a team of our youth and a team that obviously needs some confidence in a game like this,” Golden said. “We need to quiet the place down and we need to make a play early on. We get an interception and we’re excited and then we go out and [fumble] it.”
The Owls initially appeared to hang tough, forcing the Lions to third-and-13, but Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli hit Andrew Quarless for a 29-yard reception.
Hunt then raced 22 yards for a touchdown to put the Lions up 7-0. The Owls, struggling to move the ball, then tried some trickery. Golden called a fake punt on fourth-and-seven. Tailback Jason Harper took the snap and tossed a pass to Reese, but Reese was tackled one yard shy of the first down.
“He made a bad throw,” Golden said. “You know, if
he makes a good throw, maybe the guys goes 50 yards here. I mean, that’s how open that play is.”
With the Lions starting the drive on the Temple 42, Hunt sniffed the end zone. He single-handily led Penn State down the field, running for a 16-yard gain and then a 26-yard touchdown to put the Lions up 14-0. Seven of Hunt’s 16 carries generated more than 10 yards of offense. Three of his carries accumulated more than 20 yards and one exceeded 40 yards.
But the Owls suffered from more than just their inability to stop Hunt. The Owls had eight penalties for 60 yards, but the biggest effect didn’t appear in those statistics.
The Owls were forced to re-punt following
an illegal formation penalty, and Lions punt returner Derrick Williams took advantage, racing 75 yards for a touchdown to push the Lions’ lead to 21-0.By halftime the Lions had built a 31-0 lead, with Hunt adding a third rushing touchdown and setting up a field goal with a 41-yard dash. On the Lions’ first drive of the second half, Hunt caught an 11-yard touchdown from Morelli to increase the Owls’ deficit to 38-0. With the game well in hand, many of the Lions’ starters – on both sides of the ball – rested on the bench.
Though equipped with a new set of players,
the Lions’ defense did not relent.After scattering two first downs in the first half, the Owls did not manage another in the second half and accumulated just 24 yards. DiMichele said the Owls were simply overmatched.
“Basically, every defense they threw at us, we went over and covered,” he said. “We knew what they were doing. It just came down to execution and early on, they wanted it more than we did.”
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com.