Temple (5-4, 3-3 American Athletic Conference) makes the cross-state trek to play Penn State (5-4, 2-4 Big Ten) on Saturday. Which team has the edge position-by-position?
Temple has started seven different players up front with mostly subpar results. The Owls struggle to run the ball, averaging just 118 yards per game. Meanwhile, Temple has allowed just 16 sacks, a number that would most likely be higher without a mobile quarterback. Penn State has had the same issues all year and the Nittany Lions are one of six FBS teams with less than 900 total rushing yards on the season. But Penn State’s offensive line could get a boost with both Miles Dieffenbach and Donovan Smith in the lineup together. Derek Dowrey has been solid as a reserve and the Nittany Lions took a step forward in pass protection against the Hoosiers. Advantage: Push
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It’s been a frustrating season for Christian Hackenberg. He’s been under duress and knocked around on most of his dropbacks. He hasn’t been particularly accurate down the field and has eclipsed 200 yards in just two of his last six games. There’s no question he’s missing big-play threat Allen Robinson. Hackenberg has shown he’s capable of much more, but only time will tell if he can snap out of his funk. Temple’s P.J. Walker hasn’t been able to carry a lackluster Temple offense and is prone to mistakes. He can extend plays with his feet and escape sacks, but he’s just not far enough along in his development to beat teams with his arm. Advantage: Penn State
The Owls have a pretty capable duo that features Jahad Thomas and Kenneth Harper equally. Thomas is a speedster and more of a make-you-miss type of back while Harper is one of Temple’s most physical players. They’ve run for 371 and 263 yards, respectively. Harper is a goal line specialist and has five touchdowns this season and 16 over the past two seasons. Both backs contribute in the Owls’ passing game. Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch haven’t hit many big runs this season but Belton’s 92-yard scamper against Indiana bodes well for a group that has just one 100-yard rusher this season. Advantage: Push
Temple coach Matt Rhule described his team’s receiver position as a “work in progress.” It doesn’t help that the Owls’ leading pass-catcher Jalen Fitzpatrick could sit this game out with an injury. Fitzpatrick, who practiced in a limited capacity Wednesday, is dealing with a sore ankle and will be a game-time decision. If he can’t go, the Owls will depend heavily on John Christopher, who’s got just 20 catches for 140 yards. DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis form a pretty good one-two punch when they can get open. Jesse James is Penn State’s leading touchdown-getter this season with three. All three need to hold onto the ball better when it comes their way. Advantage: Penn State
There might not be a better front four in the country than Penn State’s. Even backups for C.J. Olaniyan, Anthony Zettel, Austin Johnson and Deion Barnes are playing well. Teams can’t run against the Nittany Lions and opposing passing games have failed to get off the ground. Johnson and Zettel have been animalistic all season. Zettel continues to be the spark for this group, getting consistent pressure and flushing backs and quarterbacks to the outside. Temple has a solid collection of defensive linemen, too. The Owls are particularly strong on the left side, where tackle Matt Ioannidis and Praise Martin-Aguike have combined for nine sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Temple can’t compete with Penn State’s depth, however. Advantage: Penn State
N.D. Smith and Tyler Matakevich have combined for 144 tackles so far for the Owls.However, they haven’t been nearly as involved in Temple’s pass-rush packages as their Penn State counterparts. All-in-all, Temple has started a total of six linebackers this season. Mike Hull has more tackles behind the line of scrimmage (8.5) than Temple’s starting three have cominged (7.5). Meanwhile, Nyeem Wartman played his best game last week and Brandon Bell continues to add snarl with his instinctual play. Advantage: Penn State
Defensive aficionados are in for a treat as both secondaries cover well and hit hard. Cornerback Sean Chandler leads Temple’s defensive backfield with 53 tackles, 40 of which being solo stops. Opposite Chandler, Tavon Young has kept receivers who’ve lined up across from him in check. Unless he’s making a big play, you rarely hear Young’s name and that’s a good thing. Young leads the team with three interceptions for 128 return yards. Temple safeties Jihaad Pretlow and Will Hayes have both played well. Temple isn’t shy about using a lot of corners. The Owls use plenty of nickel and dime looks. Penn State’s secondary has been just as good. Trevor Williams’ great season continues and he and safety Marcus Allen have been valued contributors in run support. Jordan Lucas is as good an open-field tackler as there is and Adrian Amos continues to provide an extra dimension with his ability to play in the box. Advantage: Push
Penn State’s punt coverage has been pretty good and punter Daniel Pasquariello has improved since the Nittany Lions scrapped their directional kicking schemes. Grant Haley and Christian Campbell continue to thrive as the unit’s gunners and have kept opposing returners in check. They’ll have to watch Khalif Herbin closely. He’s already taken one back this season for the Owls. Sam Ficken is as reliable as ever while Temple kicker Austin Jones has missed five of 13 kicks. Advantage: Penn State
Temple has faded in almost every game the Owls have played. They’ve scored just 40 of their 248 points in the fourth quarter but have made due as they’ve held opponents to 13 fourth quarter points all season. But the Owls’ offense has converted just 19 percent of its third downs in the fourth quarter. Penn State should have a bit more confidence after a road win snapped a four-game losing skid last week. The weather is likely to be pretty cold, and that could make the football harder to hold onto. Penn State’s backs have been excellent at protecting it this season but this will be their biggest test yet as the Owls have forced — and recovered — 17 fumbles. Advantage: Penn State