Behind a strong defensive effort and efficient play from quarterback Matt McGloin, the Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the Temple Owls 24-13 in the team's final warm-up before opening Big Ten play next week.
The senior quarterback completed 24-of-36 passes for 318 yards while throwing both a touchdown and an interception. He looked poised in the pocket throughout the contest, especially on his 41-yard fourth-down touchdown strike to Allen Robinson in the first quarter.
The win gives the Lions their second-straight victory after beating Navy in Week 3 and should give the young roster confidence after a difficult start to the season.
Most importantly, it gave Penn State the perfect blueprint to sustaining success for the remainder of the season.
Considering all of the critical roster losses incurred by Penn State in wake of the NCAA sanctions on the university, it was always going to be an uphill battle in 2012. Gone are leading rusher Silas Redd and leading receivers Justin Brown and Devon Smith, and all are dearly missed.
The Lions saw firsthand how devastating those personnel losses were when kicker Sam Ficken, who replaced incumbent Anthony Fera, missed four field goals and an extra point in the team's 17-16 loss to Virginia in Week 2.
Despite that heartbreak, Penn State has persevered the last two weeks thanks to some inspired defensive play and critical adjustments from first-year head coach Bill O'Brien.
Most notable were the scheme changes involving McGloin. Though he has showed marked improvements as a quarterback, McGloin is never going to be able to lead a high-powered aerial assault. It seems that O'Brien has noticed this trend and has catered the offense around McGloin's strengths while never putting him in a position to single-handedly lose the game.
Saturday also saw the team's second-straight game heavily utilizing fullback Michael Zordich, who gained 75 yards on 15 carries against Temple. Always a fan favorite, Zordich is a hard-nosed, straight-line runner who fits perfectly into Penn State's conservative approach.
With scheming at least figured out in the interim, it could mean promising things for the Lions heading into next week's Big Ten season opener against Illinois in Champaign.
Though they will likely come in as underdogs, this is a very winnable game if Penn State is able to mirror its performance from Saturday. In fact, each of the Lions' first three Big Ten games is inherently winnable if the chips fall the right way.
Without bowl eligibility, that means little in the short-term. Penn State could have gone undefeated, winning every game by five touchdowns, and still not seen the riches of its labor.
As will be the case for nearly every Lions player currently on the roster, considering the program's bowl ineligibility runs until the 2016 season.
Nonetheless, every win for this program (and this team in particular) contributes to the healing process from one of the worst controversies in sports history.
The Lions proved on Saturday that they had the ability to beat a strong opponent. Following that blueprint through the Big Ten schedule could hold the key to the program's future.