Sunday, December 28, 2014

Penn State - Temple: Five storylines to follow

Penn State picked up its first win of the season last week against Navy and its triple option. Can the Nittany Lions (1-2) make it two in a row against instate rival Temple (1-1)?

Penn State - Temple: Five storylines to follow

Penn State picked up its first win of the season last week against Navy and its triple option. Can the Nittany Lions (1-2) make it two in a row against instate rival Temple (1-1)?

Penn State has been the premiere football program in the Keystone State for, well, ever. The Owls last win againt Penn State came in 1941. But under coach Steve Addazio, Temple has been closing in on the gap. Will the Owls finally beat Penn State, now that the Nittany Lions are down? If so, what will that mean for Bill O'Brien and recruiting in Pennsylvania?

That's a question we can ask after the game. For now, here are five storylines to follow on Saturday?

Getting red hot:Matt McGloin has been solid through his first three games -- there's one area for improvement, though. That would be the red zone where Penn State has scored on just six of 10 attempts inside the opponent's 20. That includes turning the ball over on downs twice and a missed 20 yard field goal. McGloin seems to have no trouble moving the ball down the field. Let's see if he can improve on closing out drives, too.

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The A-Rob show: Sophomore wide receiver Allen Robinson has emerged as a stud. Through three games, Robinson ranks first in the Big Ten in receptions per game (eight) and receiving yards per game (107.3). He's also tied for third in touchdowns with four. There's no doubt that he's McGloin's favorite target. Only problem is, other teams know that now too. Will Robinson continue to shine or will extra attention -- potential double coverage -- affect his game? If he does get doubled, does anyone step up? Trevor Williams and Brandon Moseby-Felder are two potential candidates that come to mind. Said wide receivers coach Stan Hixon after the Navy game: "I'm telling [Robinson] right now, telling my group, that you have to come ready to play. Because he's going to get doubled, so other guys are going to have to get open."

Secondary is primary: Penn State's defense is getting progressively better this season, but the secondary is still an area of concern. Penn State has allowed 26 third down conversions this season (worst in the Big Ten) and most of those plays have been passes. Temple's offense finds strength in its run game, so the secondary won't be tested too hard this week. But if they do get burned by the Owls receivers, what message does that send?

Run, run, run: Week four approaches and the run game is still a big area of focus. Mainly the Nittany Lions have been hampered by injuries, which hasn't allowed them to find consistency through three games. Penn State ranks 12th in the Big Ten by picking up 107.7 yards on the ground per game. They are the only team in the conference without a rushing touchdown yet. Can they improve this week? No. 1 running back Bill Belton -- who missed the past two games with an ankle injury -- did not appear to be practicing on Wednesday. Derek Day (shoulder) looks like he could play -- just depends on how big of a role he will have. So again, it's going to come down to Curtis Dukes, Mike Zordich and Zach Zwinak. Can they carry the load?

Kicken Ficken: The sophomore kicker will be in the spotlight, yet again. We'll probably say this all season long until he finds some consistency or Penn State finds another option. Bill O'Brien did not put much trust in the sophomore last week against Navy. Ficken missed an extra point after a touchdown and did not attempt a field goal. That includes a fourth down play on the Navy 8-yard line where O'Brien opted to go for it instead of sending Ficken on the field. McGloin threw an incomplete pass. O'Brien insists that Ficken is fine in practice and just needs to work a bit on his technique. There's only one way to find out how good he is -- or can be.

-Emily Kaplan

About this blog
Joe Juliano has been a staff writer for The Inquirer for 20 years, covering college sports, golf and the Penn Relays.

Joining Joe this season will be John Stuetz, an intern for The Inquirer and senior at Penn State majoring in print journalism and marketing. This is John's third season covering the Penn State beat. He previously covered the Nittany Lions for the Daily Collegian, the university's student newspaper. A native of Glenside, Montgomery County, John graduated from Cheltenham High School.

For Joe, this will be his fifth season on the paper's Penn State beat. He previously covered the Nittany Lions for United Press International from 1976 to 1984.

Reach Joe at jjuliano@phillynews.com.

Joe Juliano Inquirer Staff Writer
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