Five Reasons the Temple Owls Will Surprise the Penn State Nittany Lions
For the average college football fan, there's no reason to think the Penn State Nittany Lions will have their hands full on Saturday when they host the Temple Owls in the 40th meeting between the two schools.
After all, Penn State owns a 35-3-1 all-time record against Temple, and the Owls haven't even come close to defeating the Nittany Lions since 1979. The last time Temple defeated Penn State was in 1941—almost 70 years ago.
The oddsmakers see it the same way, and on the betting tickets, the Nittany Lions are favored by a whopping 16.5 points.
However, dating back to last season, the Owls have won 12 of their last 14 games, and under the guidance of head coach Al Golden, a Penn State alumnus, the Owls continue to build and improve.
Penn State may have the advantage of playing at home in front of a packed house of 104,000+ fans, but Temple is no stranger to Beaver Stadium. Last year, the Nittany Lions defeated Temple 31-6 in Happy Valley, but the game was somewhat closer then the final score indicated.
And for what it's worth, Temple steamrolled Kent State 47-13 late last year, which sealed the Owls first bid to a major bowl game in over 30 years. In a tight contest, Penn State defeated Kent State 24-0 last weekend at home.
Without a doubt, Penn State has the better athletes and an overall superior program, but Saturday's matchup may be very tightly contested. With a 3-0 record, the Owls finally have an opportunity to catch the eye of the sportswriters in terms of national ranking possibilities.
Chances for a Temple victory are slim, but there's always the possibility of an upset. The following frames highlight five reasons why the final score will be much closer than the point spread suggests, and reveal evidence as to why the Owls will continue to impress on a national stage.
Only a sophomore, Bernard Pierce is the backbone of the Temple Owls running game, and is the first legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate for Temple since RB Paul Palmer had a very strong campaign back in 1986.
Pierce's honors list includes being a 2009 honorable mention All-American, the 2009 MAC Freshman of the Year, ESPN.com’s All-Freshman Team selection, and the 2009 Doak Walker Award nominee, among many others.
Already in 2010, Pierce has accumulated more than 300 rushing yards, and his 5.4 yards per carry shows how much of a force he is in the Owl backfield. Last week against UConn, he tallied 169 yards on the ground, including a 38-yard scamper—his longest run of the season.
Penn State will no doubt load the box with up to seven or eight players in an effort to shut down Pierce and the Owl running game. If anything else, Pierce's presence will open up a vulnerable Nittany Lion secondary and give Temple a chance to capitalize with their passing attack.
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While Penn State freshman quarterback Rob Bolden is still adapting and learning, Temple QB Chester Stewart is quietly leading the Owl offense by playing virtually mistake-free football.
In three games this season, Stewart has already accumulated over 500 yards through the air, and has been very efficient in the process. Stewart's smart and savvy, yet his strong arm still poses as a threat for the deep ball. He has already completed 43 passes, calculating to a 61.3 completion percentage, and his zero interceptions reflects his poise in the pocket.
Stewart has also gained 75 yards on the ground, as he is a viable threat to break free when his receivers are covered.
Temple fans can also expect the Owls offense to show a number of reverses and misdirection plays to throw the Nittany Lion defense off balance.
Elijah Joseph and Muhammad Wilkerson
When singling out names on the Temple Owls defense, it's tough not to mention outside linebacker Elijah Joseph and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson.
Joseph is everywhere on the gridiron, and already leads the Owls in tackles with 15 solo as well as four assists. Last year Joseph was a first-team All-MAC honoree, and was named the most improved player on the entire Temple squad heading into last season.
Often referred to as "Peanut" by his teammates, Joseph also played basketball in high school, and he shows his athleticism on the field by serving as a member in almost every Temple Owls special team.
Wilkerson, a 6'5" 305 lb. interior lineman, has recently been added to the Outland Trophy watch list, and leads the team in sacks with two while being tied for fifth in tackles with 13.
Wilkerson has the ability to contain several of the opposing offensive linemen at any given time, opening the door for the Owls linebacking corps to penetrate into the backfield.
If Penn State QB Rob Bolden is indecisive in the pocket, it shouldn't be difficult for both Joseph and Wilkerson to exploit his mistakes.
Temple Special Teams
The Temple Owls return teams are very easily one of the squads best assets, as opposing teams are kept off balance by three separate players—Matt Brown, James Nixon, and Delano Green.
Green is the primary punt returner, and has already busted off a 47-yard scamper earlier this season.
Nixon, is the chief kickoff returner, and is probably the most sure-handed of the three. He has already accumulated over 180 kickoff return yards this year.
And Brown is by far the fastest and most dangerous weapon on the Owls' entire roster. Brown will appear as a return man in all of the Temple special teams, and will also appear in the backfield to spell Bernard Pierce.
The punting and kicking units are both solid. Kicker Brandon McManus nailed the game-winning field goal in Temple's season opener against Villanova in the Mayor's Cup. Depending on the need of placement or distance, the Owls will use both McManus and Jeff Wathne in the punting games.
Temple's opposition has only six yards on five chances in punt returns, while opposing returners are only averaging 19.7 yards on kickoffs.
The Temple Owls Coaching Staff
For starters, Temple's offensive coordinator is Matt Rhule, and the owls defensive coordinator is Mark D'Onofrio—both Penn State alumni who continue to improve every year, and both who Joe Paterno speaks of very highly.
And head coach Al Golden is still full of youth and enthusiasm. At only 41-years old, Golden was the starting tight end and team captain for Penn State's 1991 Fiesta Bowl team—he knows what it takes to win.
Before the Golden era, football success has been non-existant at Temple for the past 30 years, and up until recently could have easily been considered almost as an intramural sport by many students on campus.
Many of the Owls current players have been overlooked by Division-I powerhouses in terms of being recruited, yet Golden hand picks his players and seems to instill a sense of successful characteristics almost immediately. The work ethic of the Temple players and coaching staff has now become exemplary.
The biggest difference in Saturday's game could be that Temple is loaded with playmakers who can break the game open at any given moment, while Penn State is still trying to polish a working model on offense under Bolden.
Nevertheless, Penn State certainly has the advantage in terms of defensive strength and athleticism. The safe bet says to expect Penn State to win by 10 points, but if Temple shows up ready to play and find Penn State looking past this weekend to their Big Ten schedule, the game could be full of surprises.
The Owls have few opportunities to show themselves on a national stage, and this weekend has the potential to be a stepping stone in Temple's growing program.