UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State’s four non-conference games demonstrated one truth about its offense.
It has become productive. Not dynamic. Not explosive. The unit has demonstrated fluid movement at times. It has left some points on the field.
No need to dig further than Saturday’s 24-13 victory over Temple at Beaver Stadium to demonstrate where the offense stands.
The unit had some encouraging moments, ranging from Michael Zordich and Zach Zwinak’s gritty running to another solid game from quarterback Matt McGloin.
Consider first-year coach Bill O’Brien, the unit’s lead designer, satisfied by the effort. But like most of the 93,680 fans inside the stadium, O’Brien expected more against the Owls.
“We had a productive day,” O’Brien said. “I felt we like a left of points on the board. We have to clean that up.”
The productive afternoon included season highs in total yards (491), and both passing (318) and rushing (173) yards. Twenty-seven first downs allowed Penn State to control the ball for 36:52.
The ball-hogging extended Penn State’s domination against Temple. The Owls have whiffed on 38 straight chances against the Nittany Lions. Temple’s last win in the series came in 1941.
An uncharacteristic nine penalties for 100 yards stalled multiple Penn State drives, preventing the game from becoming a rout.
“We could have scored way more than 24 points,” right tackle Adam Gress said.
Still, the vibes contrast what the Nittany Lions experienced after their first two games. Losses to Ohio University and Virginia pushed Penn State into an 0-2 hole. The Nittany Lions will open Big Ten play next weekend at Illinois with a 2-2 record. More importantly, they are enjoying their Saturdays again.
“The team is starting come together,” senior cornerback Stephon Morris said. “Wins always make the team and make the coaches happy. There’s a lot of confidence in this locker room — offense, defense and special teams.”
Touchdowns at the end of the first and second quarters led to the Nittany Lions scoring 14 first-half points, which equaled their total in last year’s 14-10 victory over the Owls in Philadelphia.
McGloin, who completed 24 of 36 passes for 318 yards, absorbed a blow from linebacker Nate Smith to throw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson with six seconds left in the first quarter. Robinson caught the ball off-balance at the 20, and sprinted into the end zone for his fifth touchdown of the season.
With 22 seconds left in the first half, McGloin capped an efficient three-play, 35-yard drive by sneaking into the end zone from the 1 for Penn State’s first rushing touchdown of the season. Two catches for 34 yards by tight end Kyle Carter helped the Nittany Lions rattle the Owls before halftime.
The second half featured few flashy plays after McGloin lunged in from the 2 for his second touchdown of the day to open scoring in the third quarter.
Zordich, who finished with a career-high 77 yards on 15 carries, spent the third barreling into Temple’s defense. Zordich left the game with a knee injury, turning 6-foot-1, 232-pound sophomore Zach Zwinak into Penn State’s top running option. Zwinak responded by rushing for a career-high 94 yards on 18 carries.
The rugged duo allowed the Nittany Lions to play keep-away from Temple in the second half. Penn State sealed the victory with an 11-play, 68-yard drive that used 7:03 and ended with kicker Sam Ficken converting a confidence-boosting 21-yard field goal.
The Owls (1-2) unsuccessfully tried matching Penn State’s punishing ground game. Seniors Matt Brown and Montel Harris, who have combined for 32 100-yard rushing games, both rushed for less than 30 yards. Chris Coyer, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound quarterback, led Temple with 64 rushing yards.
Coyer’s left arm produced little flash. He completed 13 of 26 passes for 124 yards. He had 65 passing yards on Temple’s final drive, which ended with Brown’s 1-yard touchdown grab with 56 seconds left.
Brandon McManus converted a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter and added a 42-yarder late in the third quarter for the Owls (1-2).
Penn State’s defense held Temple to 237 total yards.
“I always have a hard time analyzing how we did while you’re playing in the game,” middle linebacker Glenn Carson said. “But the overall feel of the game felt pretty good.”
Follow Guy Cipriano on Twitter@cdtguy.