The Penn State football team and its fans knew that a win over the Temple Owls would make them bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011. It’s safe to say that the extra incentive was the driving force behind stellar performances on both sides of the ball, resulting in the Nittany Lions’ 30-13 victory over the Owls Saturday afternoon.
The Nittany Lions (6-4) rushed for a season-high 254 yards, led by running backs Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton, while the defense forced five Temple (5-5) turnovers on the day.
Lynch rushed for 130 yards on 18 carries for an average of 7.2 yards. The junior running back also rushed for a 38-yard first touchdown, his second of the season. Belton added 92 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown of his own. The senior tailback has given two consecutive games of successfully running the ball after struggling for much of the season. He has rushed for 229 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games. Penn State’s 254-yard team rushing total was its highest since its 289-yard effort against Purdue last season.
Penn State’s defense was able to force five turnovers, tying its season-high mark set against Rutgers. Four of those turnovers were interceptions. Seniors Adrian Amos and Jesse Della Valle, and true freshman Christian Campbell and Grant Haley each secured an interception.
Haley’s interception was the first of his career and was returned 30 yards for a touchdown. Haley’s touchdown was the first defensive score by a true freshman since Paul Posluszny returned an interception on Nov. 15, 2003 against Indiana. It was also the first interception returned for a touchdown since Anthony Zettel’s pick-six against Ohio State in October.
Mike Hull made 10 tackles, including a half-tackle for a loss. The senior linebacker moved into 10th place on Penn State’s career tackle list with 256 tackles. Junior defensive tackle Austin Johnson made four tackles and recovered his second fumble of the season. Zettel recorded his sixth sack of the season.
The one who many would consider to be Penn State’s offensive player of the year, senior kicker Sam Ficken, made three field goals. One of the field goals was a 50 yarder, which was the second make of his career from beyond 50 yards. Ficken moved into second place on the Nittany Lions career field goals list with 52 and also moved into a fourth-place tie on the Nittany Lions career scoring chart with 258 points.
Penn State’s offense started off strong on its first possession. It took just eight plays to march down the field to Temple’s eight-yard line. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg looked comfortable in the pocket and the running game was having early success, with Lynch and Belton combining for 32 rushing yards during the drive. The Lions would eventually advance to the three-yard line, but could not punch it into the end zone. They settled for a 29-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead in the middle of the first quarter.
Temple would put its first points on the board by way of 31-yard field goal by kicker Austin Jones with 2:27 left in the first quarter.
Aside from Penn State’s first possession, neither team showed much an offensive rhythm throughout the first half. The teams combined for seven punts and an interception over the next eight drives. Penn State would take over at their own 12-yard line after forcing a Temple punt. A 21-yard pass completion from Hackenberg to Chris Goodwin served as a spark to the offense. Penn State would continue to move into Temple territory thanks to a 19-yard personal foul call and a 12-yard rush by Hackenberg. A four-yard pass from Hackenberg to Lynch set up a 50-yard field goal by Ficken to end the first half. Ficken’s 50-yard field was the second-longest of his career after a 54-yarder against Kent State in 2013.
Temple received the second-half kickoff and had a fast start. The Owls put together a nine-play, 48-yard drive. However, Jones’ 42-yard field goal attempt was just short, which gave the Nittany Lions the ball at their 25-yard line.
Penn State’s possession began with a 25-yard run by Lynch and 15-yard completion by Hackenberg to Jesse James. Things went sour for the Lions when Hackenberg threw an errant pass off his back foot which landed in the hands of Temple’s Todd Matakevich. Matakevich would return the pick 47 yards to the Penn State 16.
With Temple threatening to score from Penn State’s 7, the Nittany Lion defense came through with a stop and forced the Owls to settle for a 25-yard field goal to tie to game at 6-6 with 11:04 left in the third quarter.
The game was tight, but the Nittany Lions responded with a touchdown on their next possession thanks to their strong running effort. A 37-yard run by Belton followed by a 38-yard touchdown run by Lynch gave the Lions some breathing room with a 13-6 lead.
On Temple’s next possession, Amos would get his team-high third interception of the season and returned it 33 yards to the Owls’ eight-yard line. Penn State wasted no time scoring on its next play, an eight-yard Belton run right up the middle of the Temple’s defense. Penn State’s lead ballooned to 20-6, but the Owls responded with a 75-yard pitch-and-catch from quarterback P.J. Walker to Jalen Fitzpatrick. The score cut the lead to 20-13.
A few possession later, Haley intercepted Walker and returned it 30 yards for the touchdown and a 27-13 lead with 13:57 remaining in the game. The defense essentially sealed the win for the Lions, as Johnson recovered a fumble on Temple’s next drive. Penn State had great starting field position at the Owls’ 23, but would settle for a 21-yard field goal to take a 30-13 lead.
Temple got the ball back but again turned it over. This time it was Della Valle who came down with an interception, his second of the season. Penn State had another opportunity to put points on the board, but Ficken’s 42-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Praise Martin-Oguike. Ficken has missed four field goals this season, which all were blocked.
The Owls’ next possession ended in a turnover on downs before Penn State’s offense ran the clock out to secure the win.
*Section Photo credit to Justin K. Aller, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Sarah Bond, Daily Collegian