If it seems like forever since Temple (1-1) has beaten Penn State (1-2) in football...well, that’s because it has been almost forever since the Owls beat the Nittany Lions on the gridiron.
How long since the last Temple win over Penn State? How about almost a decade before even Joe Paterno arrived in State College, PA? How about almost two months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor?
The date was October 18, 1941, and Temple has lost 29 straight games to the Nittany Lions since. But the Owls think they might have their best chance in over 70 years to break that hex on Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium.
Oddsmakers, however, aren’t so sure. A check of the Don Best college football odds screen notes that Penn State is favored by 7½-8 points at the majority of Las Vegas sports books, with the early total at 42. Kickoff time has been switched to 3:30 p.m. (ET) on Saturday.
Not that the Owls haven’t come close before. Wayne Hardin’s Temple side nearly pulled a shocking upset over one of Paterno’s powerhouses back in the 1975 opener, outgaining Penn State 402-201 but being nipped at the wire by a 26-25 count. Hardin came close again in 1976 before Paterno again escaped with a one-point win, 31-30. And in the 1978 opener, a Nittany Lions team that would come within a whisker of the national championship had to struggle to overcome another scrappy Hardin Owl edition, 10-7, in the season opener.
But in recent years, Temple has not had a better chance to end the long series winless streak than it did a year ago, when a late turnover led to a Penn State TD with less than three minutes to play in a 14-10 Nittany Lions escape.
The Owls, however, believe this might be the year to finally put to the sword that long losing streak to Penn State. Of course, the upheaval over the past 10 months in State College is one factor; this isn’t the same Penn State as in past years. More on that in a moment.
But Temple has covered the last three meetings vs. the Nittany Lions and hopes to spring a trap on Saturday at Beaver Stadium. After perhaps looking ahead to this matchup before getting ambushed by Maryland 36-27 in their last game, the Owls have had two weeks to prepare for Penn State.
Mostly, Temple head coach Steve Addazio has hopefully eradicated some of the snapping issues which proved disastrous for the Owls vs. the Terps. Specifically, QB Chris Coyer was diving for too many snaps while in the shotgun formation vs. Maryland.
But Temple believes its pound the ball straight-ahead philosophy can work to some degree against the Nittany Lions. Coyer, who only passed the ball 18 times vs. Maryland, is a dangerous run threat. The Owls also hope to have starting RB “Mini” Matt Brown close to 100 percent after being slowed by an ankle injury vs. Maryland. Moreover, Boston College transfer RB Montel Harris is supposed to be ready to contribute after suffering a pulled hamstring in the opening win three weeks ago vs. Villanova.
Meanwhile, Penn State is at least back in the win column after suffering two losses to begin the season under new head coach Bill O’Brien. The Nittany Lions torpedoed Navy, 34-7, last week, although they were aided by some sloppy play from the Mids who were guilty of four turnovers. Navy actually outgained Penn State on the afternoon.
Penn State has hardly looked like a smooth-running machine in the first three weeks of the season. Sideline communication breakdowns have resulted in O’Brien being forced to burn needless timeouts in the first quarters of all three games to date. And while Penn State has jumped out quickly on foes Ohio U, Virginia and Navy, outscoring them a combined 41-6 in the first half, the Nittany Lions have been outscored 42-23 in the second halves of the first three games.
O’Brien, however, could use a bit more production from the running game (which wasn’t helped by star Silas Redd’s summer transfer to Southern Cal), and to that end hopes that RBs Bill Belton and Derek Day are back from injuries this week; the Nittany Lions ranked 102nd in national rush stats at only 102 ypg.
On the plus side, QB Matt McGloin has developed solid rapport with his receiving corps, specifically wideout Allen Robinson, already with 24 catches for 322 yards and four TDs after just three games. Redshirt frosh TE Kyle Carter has also been a pleasant surprise with 11 catches to date.
What Penn State will be aiming to do, however, is be more efficient in the red zone and not be forced to settle for field goal tries, especially after early struggles from PK Sam Ficken, whose four missed field goals proved costly in the September 8 loss at Virginia.