STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — In the family of Pennsylvania college football, Temple is like Penn State’s kid brother. The Owls inch closer each year to ending decades of futility against the Nittany Lions, only to be outmuscled at the end by their in-state foe.
If this is a rivalry, it’s decidedly one-sided — though Penn State’s adversity-tested players aren’t talking like it is.
“I’m not sure it’s a rival. It’s not a conference game, but it’s going to be a good game,” linebacker Michael Mauti said. “They’re going to come in here fired up. They’re right in our backyard … We have to make sure we have to play four quarters.”
The Nittany Lions taught Temple (1-1) a lesson in finishing strong the previous two years. In 2011, Penn State (1-2) pitched a second-half shutout but didn’t take the lead until late in the third quarter of a 22-13 win at Beaver Stadium.
Last season in Philadelphia, Mauti’s fourth-quarter interception set up the game-winning drive capped by Michael Zordich’s 1-yard touchdown run with 2:42 left in a 14-10 win that deprived Temple of a program-defining upset.
Officially, the Temple losing streak in the series stands at 22 games since the seven Penn State victories from 2003 have been vacated because of NCAA sanctions. The Owls tied Penn state 7-7 in 1950, but otherwise have been winless in the series since a 14-0 shutout on Oct. 18, 1941 — or about two months before the United States entered World War II.
But enough about the past.
Temple coach Steve Addazio doesn’t even want to talk about 2011, even if the Owls came tantalizingly close to victory.
“I really, frankly don’t care about last year,” Addazio said this week. “This is the 2012 team … It’s about finding out what 2012 is trying to do best. Last year is irrelevant to me because it’s a different game with different people.”
Addazio has enough worries molding a young team that’s also been hit by injuries. Temple has had two weeks to get healthy since its last contest, a mistake-filled, 36-27 loss at home to Maryland.
Center Sean Boyle and left guard Jeff Whittingham returned to practice this week after battling injuries. Freshman Kyle Friend is listed as the starter at right guard.
This may not be the ideal situation against Penn State’s front seven, the strength of the team. The Nittany Lions have forced four turnovers each of the last two games.
“If you try to get too ‘schemy,’ it backfires on you. We don’t have the experience up front to handle that,” Addazio said. “But to sit here and say that you can feel good (that) you can pound that team? That’s not going to happen. You have to figure out how to get things done.”
Translation: a team that had three times as many rushing attempts (86) as passing attempts (29) over its first two games may try to air it out a little bit more on Saturday. Quarterback Chris Coyer is 12 of 29 passing for 239 yards and three touchdowns so far this season, along with 133 yards and a score on 30 carries on the ground for the Owls.
The seasoned Penn State defense led by Mauti, fellow linebacker Gerald Hodges and tackle Jordan Hill —all seniors — appears to be prepared for anything. The players liken Temple’s offense to the scheme Addazio coordinated at Florida, where he had Tim Tebow at quarterback.
“There are some similarities. There is no question, though, that Coach Addazio has added his own twist to it,” Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien said. “They play at a very fast tempo … It’s going to be a real big challenge for our defense on Saturday.”
Penn State leads the Big Ten in turnover margin (plus-5), while redshirt freshman Deion Barnes (two sacks) has emerged as a pass-rushing threat. A secondary maligned on third downs played much better in last week’s 34-7 thrashing of Navy, though the Nittany Lions remain last in the conference on opponents’ third-down conversions (51 percent).
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