Familiar faces return with Temple
It's not officially Alumni Day at Beaver Stadium today, but with Temple in town, perhaps it should be.
There are familiar faces to Penn State fans on the opposing sidelines with Owls head coach Al Golden and two of his assistants, coordinators Mark D'Onofrio (defense) and Matt Rhule (offense), all PSU alums.
Golden, a former Nittany Lion tight end and team co-captain, has rejuvenated a long-time loser in the Temple gridiron program, posting a winning record (9-4) last season and taking the Owls to a bowl game for the first time in three decades.
In fact, Temple comes into today's matchup with a better record (3-0 for the first time since 1979) than the home Lions, who are 2-1 after blanking Kent State last week.
The job Golden has done at Temple has his name cropping up when there are coaching vacancies elsewhere. He is often mentioned as a possible successor for his former PSU mentor Joe Paterno when Joe retires, whenever that might be, although Golden reportedly avoids that subject when it is mentioned.
Temple is considered the Mid-American Conference favorite this season, but when it comes to their intrastate rivals, the Owls have been playing a distant second fiddle.
Penn State has a commanding 35-3-1 lead in the series, winning 27 in a row, and Temple hasn't defeated the Lions since 1941. Golden and company are 0-4 against their alma mater, having been outscored 154-9. Last year, PSU downed the Owls 31-6.
That dominance is why, despite Temple's resurgence, the oddsmakers have installed the Lions as two touchdown favorites for today's 3:37 p.m. kickoff. The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.
Given their track record with PSU, one would think the Owls would avoid Happy Valley on their annual itinerary. Yet the schools have renewed their series for 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Despite the lopsidedness of the series, it had been beneficial for both schools. Penn State has traditionally played the Owls in State College three out of every four years instead of the standard home-and-away arrangement. Temple also benefits from a big home crowd when the Lions visit Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Penn State is also a measuring stick for how far the Temple program has progressed. Despite the margin of last year's game, Temple played a physical contest against the Lions.
Right now the Owls are on the spot in PSU's schedule right before the Lions' Big Ten opener. In past years, this would be a tune-up game, but this year's Temple team could present more of a challenge.
"This is not the same Temple team that we've played," said Paterno in his weekly press conference. "Last year they played well. We had some things happen to us that made the score look a little more impressive.
Paterno also noted the Owls have good size and athletic ability, which is apparent from viewing tapes of their victories over Villanova (31-24), Central Michigan (13-10 in overtime) and Connecticut (30-16).
"They can look and see some of the people they are going to be playing against and they realize this is a better Temple team than any we've probably played in the 21 or 23 years that was suggested," said Paterno, who is a perfect 26-0 vs. the Owls.
Temple returns more experience than Golden has had to work with in recent years.
The Temple offense is directed by QB Chester Stewart, who has completed 43of 70 passes for 510 yards and 2 TDs. His top target thus far is wide receiver Michael Campbell, who has hauled in 10 passes for 142 yards and a TD. Rod Streater (7 receptions) and running back Matt Brown (6) are also involved in the passing game.
Bernard Pierce is the leading ball carrier for the Owls with 301 yards and 3 TDs and is actually being touted for Heisman consideration by the school, while Brown has 110 yards on the ground.
Defensively, the top tacklers are linebacker Elijah Joseph (19), a first-team All-MAC honoree and safeties Jaiquawn Jarrett (17) and Justin Gildea (16). Up front, the Owls feature MAC Defensive Player of the Year DE Adrian Robinson and pass rushing threat Muhammed Wilkerson at tackle.
With the Owls' brain trust being familiar with PSU's tendencies (Golden was a member of the PSU staff in 2000), one might think that would give Temple an inside edge.
"I think there's no question that those kids know enough about the place, they're not going to be awestruck coming into Beaver Stadium," said Paterno. "They've been here; most of the kids have been here. Obviously, the three guys who are responsible for what they're doing have been here and, I would imagine, looking forward to it.
"They've got a good, competitive football team and they can come up here and beat us. And I think they're trying to. That's what they want to do. If they can do that, obviously, it's a milestone for them. We're going to have our hands full, I don't care any way you twist it."
After beating UConn, Golden remarked that Temple "is a Division I team now." The Lions figure to once again have an overall talent and depth edge and the Owls, but today could reveal how much of the gap has been closed.
NITTANY LINES - Palmerton High graduate Matt Falcone is a sophomore linebacker at Temple but is sitting out this season with a torn ACL injury from the preseason and will take a red-shirt ... Lions are ranked 23rd by the Associated Press writers' poll and 20th by the USA Today coaches' poll this week ... Paterno was questioned about the Lions' lack of production in the running game. Evan Royster, who was considered a good bet to break the PSU all-time career rushing yardage mark, has 31 carries and 110 yards so far. Both Stephfon Green and flashy frosh Silas Redd saw time in the backfield in the second half vs. Kent State. Paterno said the offensive line needs to be more consistent for the ground attack to pick up. He noted the Lions are using freshmen Gary Gilliam and Kevin Hapea at tight end with the injury to Andrew Szczerba (not the mention the loss of two strong tight ends in Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler to the NFL draft) ... last year Royster rushed for 134 yards against Temple, which could be a benchmark test for the PSU running backs this afternoon ... injury report has RB Brandon Beachum listed as doubtful with a knee injury and wideout Curtis Drake and linebacker Gerald Hodges listed as out with leg injuries. Hero back Drew Astorino is battling a shoulder injury. Last week PSU substituted Andrew Dailey to give Astorino some recovery time and did likewise with ends Sean Stanley and Pete Massaro, who gave some relief to banged up Jack Crawford and Eric Lattimore ... linebackers Michael Mauti and Chris Colasanti each led the Lions with seven tackles last week ... PSU defense finally forced some turnovers, with D'Anton Lynn and Derrick Thomas getting picks, but QB Rob Bolden was intercepted twice ... PSU is the lone team in the nation not to allow a sack in its first three games ... ESPN2's SportsNation program broadcast live from Gate B at Beaver Stadium Thursday as part of its tour of Big Ten schools.