Penn State can’t celebrate its 34-27 win against in-state opponent Temple for long.
Big Ten football is about to start, and an injury-laden Nittany Lions team will face No. 4 Michigan (3-0) at 3:30 p.m. in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
Still, despite a few miscues, Penn State (2-1) showed continued promise throughout Saturday’s win.
Perhaps even more stunning than Saquon Barkley’s 55-yard breakaway run to seal Penn State’s victory were the cuts that broke him loose.
The running back cut outside to slip through the arms of linebacker Jarred Alwan, then back outside as free safety Sean Chandler came to help coverage. The approximately 15 feet of lateral movement over two cuts spanning 10 yards opened up the 50-yard free sprint through open space to the end zone.
▪ Not to be forgotten is backup Andre Robinson, who came in for Barkley as he was working through an injury on the sideline in the first half. Robinson ran for 24 yards on six carries and punched in the team’s second touchdown of the day (the first of the redshirt freshman’s career), his power-run style on full display.
▪ Receiver Chris Godwin had been relatively quiet through the team’s first two games this season, with a combined 11 catches and no touchdowns through two games. But Saturday the top returning target on Penn State’s roster had 117 yards on seven catches, including a wide-open 52-yard reception-for-touchdown in which he and tight end Mike Gesicki crossed over their coverage to let Godwin loose downfield.
▪ Senior defensive tackle Parker Cothren stepped up in key moments on Saturday.
Freshman running back Miles Sanders fumbled at the Temple 7-yard line, and the Owls recovered. In the resulting series, Cothren had two tackles for loss for five combined yards and Temple had to punt.
The defensive line as a unit allowed 70 rushing yards throughout, a vast improvement from the 491 yards allowed combined through Penn State’s first two games. The unit also combined for nine tackles for loss for 32 yards, which is also more pushback from the defensive line than the first two games.
▪ Gesicki pulled in an acrobatic one-handed catch for 52 yards on a throw quarterback Trace McSorley laced between (and over) double-coverage. The highlight-reel snag was stunning, and could not have happened without the initial evasion of the pass rush by McSorley, who rolled out under pressure and hardly stopped to plant before he fired to Gesicki.
▪ Penn State converted on fourth down in back-to-back second quarter drives. The first, a 19-yard run on fourth-and-3 by Sanders, resulted in Sanders’ fumble on the following play. The second, a 1-yard rush by Robinson on fourth-and-1, ultimately resulted in McSorley’s first career rushing touchdown.
Penn State fumbled the ball five times and recovered three of those. While the Nittany Lions were able to contain Temple after the Owls recovered Sanders’ fumble, Amani Oruwariye accidentally kicked a rugby punt (technically a fumble) in the fourth quarter and Temple scored on the resulting drive. A McSorley interception led to another Owls touchdown just before that, as the team attempted a comeback behind 14 points off second-half Penn State turnovers.
The team is last in the country through three games with 12 fumbles, and No. 124 in the country in fumbles lost with six. Penn State has also given up 35 points off turnovers through three games.
▪ The Nittany Lions continue to get beat on jet sweep plays.
Temple undoubtedly watched the success Pitt had with the sweep against Penn State in Week 2, and utilitzed it effectively in the first quarter to tie the game, 7-7 off an 8-yard handoff to Jahad Thomas. Corner Christian Campbell shifted in help coverage as Thomas swept wide, but missed his tackle and the running back scored.
Injuries have again plagued Penn State, especially at linebacker.
While Brandon Smith, a former walk-on, had an excellent game on Saturday after coming in for Nyeem Wartman-White and recorded eight tackles as well as a tackle-for-loss and near strip-sack of Temple quarterback Phillip Walker, it’s safe to assume the Nittany Lions would rather have healthy, experienced starters in the unit heading into Big Ten play.
Penn State was, at one point in the first half against Temple, without six defensive starters (Evan Schwan, Jason Cabinda, Grant Haley, Wartman-White, Marcus Allen and Grant Haley) and remains (until a possible status update on Tuesday) without its three starting linebackers. Starting safeties Allen and Malik Golden returned to the game after injury, but Wartman-White did not.
The team also missed receiver Saeed Blacknall for the second straight game.
Head coach James Franklin will not likely go into detail regarding the status of the injuries unless season-ending. That update would be provided on Tuesday morning.
▪ Near the end of the game on Saturday, the student section at Beaver Stadium began chanting “(expletive) you, Temple!” on two separate occasions. This seems an especially moronic decision based on the heated national spotlight and scrutiny surrounding the university’s 50th anniversary commemoration of former head coach Joe Paterno’s first game that afternoon.