In its final non-conference game of the season, the Penn State Nittany Lions will play host to in-state rival Temple Owls Saturday at noon.
This weekend’s matchup marks the 43rd meeting between the two programs dating back to 1931, with Penn State leading the all-time series 38-3-1. The Owls last win against the Nittany Lions came in 1941. The teams last met on Sept. 22, 2012 at Beaver Stadium, with Penn State leaving with a 24-13 victory.
Both the Nittany Lions and the Owls own identical 5-4 records, and both need only one more win to become eligible for a bowl game this season.
The Lions are coming off a 13-7 win at Indiana last week. The victory improved their record to 3-1 on the road this season. Penn State’s No. 3 ranked defense was again at its best against Indiana, holding the Hoosiers to their fewest points at home since the 2006 season.
Temple has lost three of its last four games. The Owls dropped a 16-13 decision at home to Memphis last weekend following their victory over then No.21 East Carolina 20-10, on Nov. 1.
The Nittany Lions get two of their veteran offensive linemen back this week in Miles Dieffenbach and Donovan Smith. With the tandem back in the starting lineup and playing side-by-side for the first time this season, there is hope that Penn State’s offense will begin to show some life, especially in the running game.
However, running back Bill Belton rushed for over 100 yards for the first time this season and fourth time in his career against Indiana, gaining 137 yards on 16 carries. His performance was highlighted by a 92-yard rushing touchdown, setting Penn State’s record for its longest scoring play from scrimmage since 1919.
Defensively, Penn State will look to shut down Temple’s running game before pressuring quarterback P.J. Walker into making mistakes. Last week, safety Jesse Della Valle and linebacker Nyeem Wartman secured the first interceptions of their careers, and Wartman also recorded eight tackles. Linebacker Mike Hull led the team with nine tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. As a whole, the defense made 10 tackles for loss, which tied their season-high effort vs. UMass.
The Owls average 316.7 yards of total offense and 27.6 points per game and have done so in several ways this season, recording 11 passing, 11 rushing, six defensive touchdowns, eight field goals and three punt returns.
Walker leads the offense with 208.1 total yards per game, throwing for 187. 1 yards and rushing for 21.0 yards per game. He has accounted for 11 touchdown passes and three rushing scores. Jake Fitzpatrick is the team’s leading receiver with 37 catches for 512 yards and five touchdowns. Jahad Thomas is the leading rusher with 371 yards on 72 carries, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
Temple is ranked No. 10 in scoring defense, allowing just 18.1 points per game, and also rank No. 7 in turnovers forced. They have forced 25 turnovers (17 fumbles and eight interceptions) this season. Captain linebacker Tyler Matakevich leads the team with 83 tackles, with 5.5 tackles for loss and three pass break-ups. Defensive back Tavon Young has four pass break-ups and three interceptions, including one return for a touchdown. Defensive lineman Prais Martin-Oguike is the team leader in sacks with 5.5, while Matt Loannidis leads the Owls in tackles with nine, including 3.5 sacks.
This matchup serves as a homecoming for Temple head coach Matt Rhule, who played four seasons for Penn State at linebacker from 1994-97. He earned All-Big Ten honors as a senior and received his degree in political science.
*Section Photo credit to Justin K. Aller, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Matthew O’Haren, USA Today Sports.