Considering it’s been nearly 70 years since Penn State lost to Temple, Joe Paterno’s team should be comfortable heading into its final non-conference tuneup.
It’s not - and with the Owls off to their best start in three decades, perhaps it shouldn’t be.
Turnovers and a less-than-dominant running game have slowed the No. 23 Nittany Lions in their first three contests, issues Temple will try to expose Saturday afternoon in Happy Valley as it tries to end a 27-game losing streak against its in-state rival.
No one expected Penn State (2-1) to steal a win at Alabama on Sept. 11, so four turnovers and a rocky road debut by freshman quarterback Rob Bolden were hardly a surprise in a 24-3 loss.
The more pressing concerns for Penn State have come in its two home games. The Nittany Lions outscored Youngstown State and Kent State 68-14, but committed four more turnovers and averaged 147.0 yards on the ground - not enough to take as much pressure off Bolden as they would like.
Senior Evan Royster has particularly struggled. The Big Ten’s leading rusher over the past two seasons (2,405 yards), Royster has yet to crack 40 yards in any of his first three games as backup Stephfon Green has averaged 4.7 yards per carry to Royster’s 3.5.
“I mean (Royster’s) a great back, and I think he’s going to get it together,” all-conference guard Stefen Wisniewski said after Saturday’s 24-0 win over Kent State. “I think probably he’s a just strung a little bit because he’s not getting as many carries as he used to and we’re spreading it around a little bit and probably making it tougher for him to get into his game a little bit.”
Instead of using a visit from Temple to work on the kinks in the running game, Penn State might need to be on upset alert. The Owls are 3-0 for the first time since 1979 after Bernard Pierce ran for 169 yards and a career-high three touchdowns in Saturday’s 30-16 win over Connecticut.
“We’re a Division I team now,” said Temple coach Al Golden, who played for and coached under Paterno at Penn State. “We have experience. … Certainly, we have great leadership, and we’re a tough team. We’re finding ways to win. We’re resilient, relentless.”
The Nittany Lions’ last loss to Temple was a few weeks before the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, but Paterno certainly isn’t taking a team looking for its first 4-0 start since 1974 lightly.
“Kids can take tapes home and the whole bit,” Paterno said. “Unless they’re stupid, they can take a look and see some of the people we have to play against, and realize that this is a better Temple team than any we’ve probably played in 21 years or 23 years.”
It’d be tough for the Owls to look any more overmatched than they have against Penn State since Golden arrived in 2006. The Nittany Lions have outscored Temple 154-9 in their four wins and haven’t allowed a touchdown.
Despite the Owls’ hot start, this may be the week for Penn State to get Royster and the ground game going. The Huskies piled up 240 yards rushing last week in their loss, and the Nittany Lions have outrushed Temple 908-82 in the last four meetings.
Royster had 28 carries for 207 yards and two touchdowns over the series’ past two games. Green had 132 yards and a touchdown in a 45-3 win two years ago.
Pierce, meanwhile, had seven carries for 24 yards in Temple’s 31-6 loss at Happy Valley last season. The Owls are 12-0 when the sophomore rushes for at least 55 yards and 1-3 when he doesn’t.