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.
“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:
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.
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.
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.
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.