As the Temple Owls and Penn State Nittany Lions prepare to face off, Chris Franklin gives his take on the Owls chances of ending the losing streak.
Penn State Nittany Lions
2014 Record: 6-6 (Defeated Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl)
Coaches and players have been up late studying film, looking for tendencies that they can exploit. On Saturday, after a long wait, college football will be back at Lincoln Financial Field.
“We felt like we had a pretty good preseason,” Temple Head Coach Matt Rhule said during the American Athletic Conference weekly coach’s conference call. “We have a veteran group. We have a lot of young talent that can come in and can help us at different times. I feel like we have really developed and grown as a team. We are excited to get to the next phase and start the season. We are playing a really talented and well-coached team in Penn State. It is obviously a tremendous test for us. It is a great opportunity to see where we stand and have a chance to go compete versus a team where we know their players and coaches, who we have a lot of respect for.”
“We are trying to get our guys to focus on ourselves. We can only control what we can control. We can’t control how good Christian Hackenberg is. We can’t control how good Zettel is and all those great players they have. We can control how we play and how we prepare. We are trying to take that approach as opposed to getting caught up in the hoopla and the grandeur of the game. We hope that by focusing on ourselves, we can play as well as we can play.”
It will be interesting to see how the Owls interior offensive lineman (center Kyle Friend and guards Shahbaz Ahmed and Brian Carter) tries to neutralize the interior push Penn State defensive tackles Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson. The team will also have to capitalize on third down conversions. The last time these two teams met, Temple only converted three of 16 third down attempts. There were dropped balls and failed rushing attempts. Quarterback P.J. Walker will just have to make good decisions throwing the ball and not force throws into double coverage.
It is imperative for the Owls to establish the run game. If they can move the ball successfully on first down, it will put the offense in much more manageable situations and even open the play action pass game.
Defensively, there are a couple things that the team will have to do better in this season’s matchup. In last year’s game, Penn State ran many routes that were less than 15 yards. They relied on quarterback Christian Hackenberg to make the safe decision and to get the ball into their receiver’s hands to make a play. The Temple linebackers and defensive backs will have to do a good job of not only covering the short routes but tackling the receivers and limit the yards after the catch. Also, in the first half, Temple was susceptible to the hard count, jumping offsides and giving Penn State free yards. They will have to be disciplined and watch the ball instead of keying on Hackenberg’s voice.
They will also have to do a better job at stopping Akeel Lynch and the Penn State rushing attack. Lynch ran the ball 18 times for 130 yards in last year’s game against the Owls. Lynch and the other Penn State running backs were able to find cutback lanes after the initial hole was filled. The defensive linemen and linebackers will not only have to fill holes, but the backside defenders will also have to not over pursue their gaps and wrap up on initial contact.
If you look at the way the Penn State offense played last season, it was not a matter of if Penn State would turn the ball over, it was a matter of when. The Nittany Lions finished the season with a turnover differential of -2. Hackenberg will throw a couple errant passes that can turn into interceptions. The Owls defense finished 11th out of 128 teams in the country last season in takeaways (30). If the opportunity presents itself, the defense has to take advantage of it.
This game could very well be a defensive battle. If it is, field position will be critical. Alex Starzyk will have to be good with his punts, consistently landing them inside the 20-yard line when possible.
Oct. 18, 1941, was the last time the Owls defeated the Nittany Lions. It could have been a year earlier, but turnovers and a rough fourth quarter stopped them from ending the streak. After 73 years and 10 months, it will come to an end.
Temple 21, Penn State 17.