Sunday, September 18, 2011

Penn State vs. Temple: A Close Call Is Always Good

There was a decidedly different atmosphere at Lincoln Financial Field for this year's Temple-Penn State game.  The last time Penn State played there, in 2007, Penn State white dominated the stands.  The game was a sell-out.  Temple fans were sort of hard to find.

We were, after all, in Philadelphia, from where a lot of Penn State students hail, and to where a lot of alums migrate after four years in Happy Valley.  That was also the first time Penn State would play at the Lincoln Financial Field, home of both the Eagles as well as Temple football.

This year, the stands were at least 50% cherry red, and the "Linc" was less of a novelty for Penn State fans.  It definitely had more of a home game feel for Temple, rather than a neutral venue feel for Penn State. 

The stands were not sold out.  Scalpers in the tailgating areas were selling tickets at less than face value two hours before the game.

Temple, though, with its re-energized and very good football squad, has finally found itself a robust fan base, especially among the students. 

Many of the folks around us in tailgating and in the stands were Temple fans.  They were mixed in with Penn State fans.  Around us were also several families divided between the two schools. 

For example, the woman in front of me, was clearly, along with her husband, a diehard Penn State fan.  She told me how her daughter had been accepted to both Penn State's and Temple's business schools.   But her daughter opted to go to Temple, and both she and her brother, against their parents' sentiments, were decked out in Temple red.

When Penn State plays Temple, either away or at home, Nittany Lions fans expect to win.

Even in a year when we know that Temple is fielding an excellent team, we simply can't wrap our heads around the notion that Penn State might lose. 

After all, Temple hasn't won a game against Penn State in 70 years, so why should this be different?  (That's right, their last win was in 1941!)

But it was different.  Temple's defense rose to the occasion and prevented Penn State from scoring for most of the game. 

It was clear that Temple fans were having the time of their lives keeping Penn State on the ropes for most of the game.  They knew that if Temple could somehow pull off an upset, it would be the game of all games - one that would be talked about for decades. 

And it sure looked like Temple would get their way this time.  You could feel the Temple energy in the stands.  You could see from how Temple played on the field that their slogan "Attack the MAC" might actually translate into a championship for them. 

They were good.  Better and seemingly more organized than Penn State, in fact. 
You could see the shock and disbelief among Penn State fans used to watching the Lions score 40+ points against Temple in the past.

After all, Penn State was behind most of the game. 

The Lions were within a field goal, but a field goal turned out to be all but impossible for Penn State to achieve. 

Penn State's kickers missed three:  one by Evan Lewis from 45 yards, one by Sam Ficken from 49 yards (which was blocked), and another one by Evan Lewis from 36 yards.

In fact, at the end of the game with three minutes left on the clock, on fourth and one on the Temple three-yard line, one wonders if we would have been able to make that field goal in order to tie the game 10-10. 

Fortunately Brandon Beachum was able to make two yards for that first down.

After a touchdown by Michael Zordich With 2:42 remaining on the clock, Penn State was finally ahead for the first time, 14-10.

But let me backtrack a bit.  Because this game wasn't won by offense, and it certainly wasn't won by the kicking game. 

This game was won by Penn State's defense.  They held Temple to 10 points.  They made big plays when it was needed.

Most specifically, there were two game-changing big plays that stopped Temple in its tracks.  The first was a Mike Gerardi pass interception by Chaz Powell that gave Penn State possession on the Temple 26-yard line, with 11:42 left in the fourth quarter. 

That created a scoring opportunity that was unfortunately squandered by a missed field goal.  But still, it was a big defensive play, and Penn State had the chance to tie the game if the field goal had been made. 

On the very next Temple drive, Michael Mauti intercepted another Mike Gerardi pass at the Temple 44-yard line, with 8:46 remaining in the game.

Quarterback Rob Bolden was able to complete some passes and running back Brandon Beachum was able to gain some yards to lead the Penn State team down the field to the Temple three-yard line, although a team fumble almost caused a loss of scoring opportunity.  Fortunately that fumble was recovered by Mike Zordich.

The key coaching decision of the game was to go for it on fourth-and-one from the three-yard line to win the game.  It looked like Penn State was going to try for the field goal, but then a time out was called.

Was Joe Paterno overturning a routine "safe" sideline call to tie the game?  Probably.

It's likely an old instinct from the days before overtime about  going for the win rather than the tie.  In any case, it made sense to us.  Penn State's kicking game wasn't assured even when it was close to the goal.

And if all Penn State could do was tie the game, the overtime momentum might also have been with Temple.

JoePa made the right call.  And Penn State was lucky that it worked.

As for the rest of the game?  There was still 2:33 on the clock, and Temple had plenty of time to score a touchdown.  Credit Penn State's defense again for stopping Temple's comeback drive at the Penn State 34-yard line.

We walked away from "The Linc" breathing a sigh of relief but wondering about how good our team will be this season. 

There is still a lot of improvement to be achieved before we play the Big Ten schedule. 

There were too many penalties, the kicking team needs a lot of help, and neither quarterback outshone the other, making us wonder how long this quarterback controversy can or will go on. 

Penn State has one more non-conference game, against Eastern Michigan, on September 24, before the Big Ten schedule starts at Indiana.

As for the game itself, it was very good for the team to face adversity, and to "suck it up" and win the game.  I would much prefer a test like this than a 40-something point blow-out.

The good news is that both the offense and the defense had to come together in the end to score enough points and to prevent a loss.

So maybe that will provide a glimmer of hope for a good season, from an otherwise ugly game.


  1. As Michael Zordich said after the game, "this wasn't a lucky win.". We worked hard and overcame mistakes. Our defense was very good. And the offense made just enough plays to win a hard-fought victory. This is far from the first time a Joe Paterno team has depended on the defense to hold the fort while the offense works out its kinks. Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State, and Nebraska all showed weaknesses yesterday. Penn State has some coaching up to do. And they have the staff to do it.

  2. Yeah. I walked away feeling that this was a good test. However, the offense definitely has to work out some kinks! I hope you're right.

  3. If this 2 QB crap continues any further than next weeks game we are in for one LONG season. My preference is to pick a guy now (my preference is Bolden as he has more long term upside and provides a run threat) and let him play most of this weeks game. And, my goodness, what is up with the friggin kickers? Disgusting....and if it doesn't improve real quick, its going to cost us games. I still got eligibility left, I got enough leg still to nail 40 or less...when's open tryouts?

  4. Agree with you. The 2 QB system seems to disrupt rhythm for the offense. I almost don't care anymore who the coaches choose as long as they do, I like Bolden as well. My guess is that they will stick with 2 QB's through next week's game.

    Don't even want to comment on the kicking. All of those kicks on Saturday were make-able. Although perhaps now the kickers are so spooked that they need some psychological training or something.

  5. Well, as I anticipated, it was a very close game. Needless to say I was very close to breaking everything in my living room. Yes, Temple has improved, but they shouldn't be near the team that we are. The sad thing is, the Big Ten is down this year and PSU has the tools to compete for a Big Ten title, but the coaching decisions will keep them from contending.

    What we learned:

    1. Penn State has a top-ten defense. Mauti and Hodges may be the two best linebackers in the Big Ten. Lynn is an NFL corner and the line has made significant strides. Morris is terrible(as he has been for years) but other than that our defense is excellent. They will keep us in every game this year. I don't foresee any blowouts.

    2. Bolden can thrive under pressure. After his interception he could have easily sat on the bench and pouted. But Rob Bolden grew up Saturdau afternoon after completing a crucial 4-and-2 pass to MOye late in the game. Please let him play a full game. He will be so much better when he doesn't feel like he will be pulled if he makes a mistake.

    3. Redd is our best offensive player---give him the ball!!! He should be getting 25 carries a game--especially with our QB questions. He only got 16 carries and averaged 5.4 yards a carry. I like Beachem..but he shouldn't be splitting carries with Redd. He should be used in short-yardage situations, but Redd should get 85% of the carries.

    4. Fera has learned his lesson---now let him kick!!! We are going to be in a lot of close games this year and the kicking game is going to be vital to our success. Iowa, Illinois, NW, Nebraska, OSU, Wisky are all tough games and we are going to need to make the gimme field goals to have a chance at winning.

    5. If we keep disrupting rhythm of our QBs by having a two-qb system, we will go 6-6. enough said--it needs to stop.

    6. We continue to get outcoached in every game..can't think of the last game where we won the coaching battle

    Hopefully the offense can find some rhythm this week as they prepare for Big Ten play.

  6. Thanks for your insights as usual Nathan. What I have heard is that Silas Redd had cramps, which is why we saw so much of Beachum in the second half.