Penn State Football: Keys to the Game at Temple

Sep 5, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions defensive end Evan Schwan (94) pressures Temple Owls quarterback P.J. Walker (11) during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O
Sep 5, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions defensive end Evan Schwan (94) pressures Temple Owls quarterback P.J. Walker (11) during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O /

The Nittany Lions look to rebound this weekend as they play host to the Temple Owls.  What does Penn State need to do to get back on the winning side of the ledger?  Read the keys to the game to find out.

Penn State once again finds itself licking its wounds from another defeat by an in-state opponent. Last week, the Nittany Lions were defeated by the Pittsburgh Panthers by a score of 42-39. From an offensive perspective, the game was wildly entertaining.  Defensively, however, both teams left a lot to be desired.  Penn State needs to have a short memory because this week they play host to another state rival – the Temple Owls.

As by now I am sure you are aware, Penn State opened last season in Philadelphia with a loss to  the Owls.  The loss was Penn State’s first to Temple since the 1941 season.  The opening-game loss a season ago was not the start Nittany Lions fans were expecting.  The Owls defense sacked former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg 10 times, while the Temple offense scored 20 unanswered second-half points en route to a 27-10 triumph.

Is this the week the Nittany Lions exact some revenge on their in-state foes? Or, will Temple string together a winning streak in a series heavily dominated by Penn State?  What do the Nittany Lions need to do to avoid another Temple upset?  Find out below in my keys to the game – Temple edition.

Game Keys:

1. Let the Offensive Dog Keep Eating!  The Penn State offense has been extremely efficient this season turning possessions into points.  By my count, the offense has had a total of 29 offensive possessions, and they have scored either a touchdown or field goal on 11 of them (37.9 percent efficient).  Through two games, this is the highest scoring rate of the James Franklin era at Penn State.  I see no reason to change what has been highly successful thus far.

Many teams are loading the box to stop the big running plays of Saquon Barkley.  What it has opened up, however, are chances for Trace McSorley to beat them through the air, including swing passes to the aforementioned Barkley.  In just two games, the Nittany Lines racked up 760 total yards of offense.  To compare, it took Penn State three games last season to reach that mark.  Suffice it to say, I think the offense is on the right track, aside from the turnovers.  This week, just let the big dogs continue to eat.

2. Maintain Gap Control.  I wanted to use this section to write about how Penn State needs to tackle better this weekend.  However, that is truly stating the obvious.  Even the Nittany Lions know they have to better at tackling if they are going to contain the run.

Instead, let’s just say the Penn State defensive ends need to do a better job at maintaining their gap assignments.  Pitt was able to consistently and successfully run jet sweeps last week because they not only have faster athletes than Penn State’s defensive ends, but also the Nittany Lion ends did them a favor by losing gap assignments.

This week, expect the Lions to get a heavy does of running back Ryquell Armstead.  The sophomore from Millville, NJ has been the bell cow for the Owls in the absence of senior star Jahad Thomas (Thomas is questionable for the game on Saturday with an injured hand).  On the season Armstead has nearly half of the Owls’ rushing attempts, and he has turned them into 125 yards and two scores.  How Penn State adjusts to the Temple running game will go along way in determining who wins.  Look for Penn State to be more solid in their gap control which should limit the big plays on the ground.

3. Third Down Conversions.  Penn State has done well on offense, just not on third downs.  The Nittany Lions have struggled in the opening two games keeping drives alive on third down.  For the season, Penn State has converted just seven of 24 attempts (29.2 percent conversion rate).  Compare that with Big Ten elites like Michigan (60.0%) and Ohio State (59.3 percent), and you can see that Penn State has a ways to go.

Penn State certainly wants to improve its third down conversion rate and keep drives alive, but doing so will not be easy against Temple.  The Owls rank 23rd nationally in opponent third down conversions, allowing just a 25.9 percent success rate.  Look for Penn State to improve the conversion rate on Saturday.  Defensively, Temple has lost defensive stalwarts Tyler Matakevich and Matt Ioannidis, and trying to replace them has proven a difficult task.  Penn State should take advantage of a weaker Temple defense than last year

As always, if you are headed to Happy Valley, I hope you have a great time rooting on the Nittany Lions.  Be safe, enjoy, and We Are…