Our Tome of a Penn State-Temple Preview; LIVE BLOG Tomorrow at Noon

Our Tome of a Penn State-Temple Preview; LIVE BLOG Tomorrow at Noon

We're now less than twenty-four hours away from the biggest college football game played in the city of Philadelphia in...well, let's just call it a long time.

Though the Nittany Lions are favored by a touchdown and an extra point, and the Owls haven't had a win in this series since before Joe Paterno became head coach, many believe that Saturday's game is the best opportunity Temple has had to up-end its in-state rival in decades.

Last year, the Owls proved more than competitive against Penn State, losing by a final score 22-13, but leading from more than half the contest. So, is 2011 the year Temple finally gets the monkey off its back? Our college football guys Kevin McGuire and Nick Menta detail tomorrow's matchup below.

But, before we get to that, we'd like to announce that, for the second year in a row, we'll be hosting a LIVE BLOG here on The700Level during the game. Nick and Kevin will be chatting from inside Lincoln Financial Field with other members of our staff popping in and out throughout the game. Watch the coverage on ESPN and join us to share your thoughts, ask your questions, or just to talk your smack. And now, on to the show...

On the Penn State Nittany Lions:
From a Penn State perspective, the key will be the quarterback play. Joe Paterno is opting to go with two guys once again, Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin, and this could be the final test before a decision on a full-time signal caller is made. That means the pressure will be on to perform against what Joe Paterno has called the best Temple team he has ever seen.

The two quarterback candidates have failed to throw a touchdown pass this season, but consider that the running game dominated the week one game against Indiana State and the Alabama defense last week was a monster, it may not be all that surprising. regardless, the passing game will need to see better protection against a relentless Temple defensive front. The pass protection has been weak in the first two games and should have been a focus this week in practice. Temple will bring the pressure, so it will be interesting to see how Bolden and McGloin react. If the receivers can hold on to the ball this week, that would help out a lot as well.

The theme of the day though will remain the running game of both Penn State and Temple. Temple's Bernard Pierce gave the Nittany Lions some problems last season in State College, and if he had stayed in the game who knows how the game would have ended up? For Penn State, look for a strong showing by stud sophomore Silas Redd. He brings good speed, athleticism and field awareness to the offense and Redd should ease the pressure on the quarterbacks. —Kevin McGuire

On the Temple University Football Owls:
These two teams have more in common than any Penn State fan will feel comfortable admitting. Coming into 2011, neither head coach could decide on a starting quarterback and the success of their respective offenses is primarily driven by talented rushers both set to collapse by the end of the season as a result of exhaustion.

We'll start with the passing attack. Once redshirt-junior Mike Gerardi was named the starter against Villanova and the lead-signal caller for Week 2 against Akron, we presumed, perhaps incorrectly, that consecutive quality starts had secured him the job for the foreseeable future.

But senior QB Chester Stewart, whose preseason reps diminished over time possibly due to an anticipated suspension, has apparently re-entered the picture. From the Inquirer's Keith Pompey:

“I thought Chester [Stewart] played very well in that game against Akron last Saturday," said Temple coach Steve Addazio , who won’t name a clear-cut starter. “I think Chester is a guy that can be in that game, as could Chris Coyer."

"We will probably see Mike start the [Penn State] game. But we can see Chester play a fair amount."

At first read, this sounds like a direct contradiction of the comments made by Adazzio during the team's Media Day in late-August, when the first-year head coach insisted that he wouldn't run a two-quarterback offense, labeling the strategy "unproductive." Assuming he's still of that mindset—which he should be after the Penn State's struggles against Alabama last week—Addazio did mention the possibility of introducing a Wildcat/Spread package during the season. Both Stewart and true-freshman Clinton "Juice" Granger could prove highly effective in such a role.

As for the true leader of the Temple offense, junior rusher Bernard Pierce is tied with Pitt's Ray Graham for the most touchdowns in the nation with six. As Kevin mentioned above, when actually in last year's ballgame, Pierce carried Temple in the first half, making it seem as though the Owls were actually on the verge of upsetting the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley. Unfortunately, a third-quarter ankle injury would relegate Bernard to the sideline. From there, Chester Stewart and Matt Brown struggled to move the ball and the tide turned. What would have happened if Pierce stayed healthy? Time will tell—we hope.

Bernard and the QBs aside, the performance of the Temple offensive line is going to prove critical. Pierce, though immensely talented, is going to need the guys in front of him to generate a sufficient push. Watch a lot of the Big 10? Then you know running the ball can be difficult against an entire conference predicated on strong linebacker and D-line play. In pass protection, Gerardi, Stewart, or whoever is under center is going to need some time to breathe.

Bottom line, Pierce needs to get off to a good start early, or Penn State may be able to drop into the same coverage schemes that so crippled Temple in the second half of last year's matchup. —Nick Menta

Miscellaneous Notes Heading into Tomorrow:
--Attendance
When these team's played in 2007, they set a record for the largest reported crowd to ever watch a Temple football game at Lincoln Financial Field. The final warm body count—69,092. On that day, a small, but dedicated group clad in Cherry packed about four sections worth of seats in
southeast corner of the lower bowl. The rest of the stadium resembled, and effectively became, a Penn State home game.

Will we see a more even split in fan participation tomorrow? This from Sam Donnellon:

"Temple officials insist it won't be [like last time], that at least 30,000 tickets have been sold through the school's aggressive ticket packaging, and about 12,000 student tickets have been sold as well."

Now does anyone actually believe we're going to see 42,000 Temple fans in attendance tomorrow? It could be the case, and I'm now remembering my own experience from 2007, that a fair number of the student tickets have been given away or sold off to friends making the trip from PSU (Correction: Reader "NickIsOutOFTouch" wrote in that Temple students are now required to present legitimate school ID to enter the games and use their student tickets, unlike in years past. Chalk this one up as Nick's early vote for comment handle of the year.)

And while Temple's hard marketing of its partial season ticket package—lower level seats to Penn State and two other home games for just $90—has drawn drawn 30,000 people, it remains to be see just how many of those tickets were bought by or ultimately sold to PSU fans on the secondary market.

Still, an even split would be an awesome sight. Here's to hoping the cynicism above is rendered unwarranted.

--Aesthetics
For the first time, the field at Lincoln Financial Field has been painted Cherry and White. The south end zone bears the letters T-E-M-P-L-E while the north end zone reads O-W-L-S. Though these same letters were spray-painted on the field in '07, they were done hastily and in no way covered the traditional end zone print of the building's main tenant. Frankly, it just looked bad. Fortunately for those who want an early look at the freshly painted turf, this image, screen capped from somebody's CSN television feed, popped up on the message boards of Owlscoop.com over night.

--Odds
As cited in the introduction, Bodog lists the Nittany Lions as a -7. Thanks to vegasinsider.com, we can see that literally every single book on their site has the Lions giving that same -7. The over/under vacillates between 45 1/2 and 46. For your reference, in neither of the last two playings have the teams exceeded more than 37 combined points.

--Breakfast
Anyone camping out over night? See you bright and early tomorrow morning. Coordinate your tailgates in the comments as you will.

Trash talking starts...now.

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).