Temple keeps Penn State game in perspective

Adrian Robinson and the Temple defense will need to force turnovers in order to hang with Penn State. (Michael S. Wirtz/Staff Photographer)

"Fifty years! Has it really been that long? . . . Are you sure?"

That was the reaction of former Temple (and Eagles) great Bucko Kilroy, 19 years ago, when told that the last time his Owls had beaten Penn State had indeed been 1941, when he was a two-way sophomore lineman.

On Oct. 18 of that year, in a steady drizzle before an estimated sellout crowd of 25,000 at Temple Stadium, the Owls took a 3-1 lead in the series with a 14-0 win.

The teams have met 35 times since. The best Temple has to show for it was a 7-7 tie in 1950 at what was still called Beaver Field.

Kilroy died in 2007. Yet his words ("It seems so far-fetched") still define the onesidedness of it all.

Which brings us to tomorrow, when Temple makes another trip to Happy Valley. But this one feels different. The Owls are 3-0 for the first time in three decades, while Penn State could be at least somewhat vulnerable.

So who knows? It would hardly be the biggest upset in the history of college football. Or maybe even the biggest one this weekend.

Fifth-year Temple coach Al Golden, who played tight end for Joe Paterno, deals with the overall one move at a time. He understands that a win over the Nits doesn't mean his guys are necessarily headed to the BCS final. Just as a loss wouldn't negate everything else they have done this month, or might do in the next several.

Nonetheless, it's hardly the same as playing Eastern Michigan. Or pretty much anyone else.

"As a football program, we appreciate the attention," Golden said. "But it's not going to change [the approach]. The story line changes, but I'm hoping our foundation, our core values, are stronger than [the media perception]. I'm hoping [our players] aren't reading it, or watching it. Because I'm not. My wife won't let me. I just don't deal with it. I mean that respectfully.

"It's about the process. And the execution. And nobody's done it better, forever, than the team we're playing. This is the ultimate step. They're going to Rose Bowls, and winning Big Ten titles, and all that."

So what would it mean, to finally defeat what that represents, tangibly or otherwise?

"I mean, I don't know what you want me to say," Golden said with a smile. "It'd be good. Again, if you go back 13 months, everybody was wondering where we were as a program. You know, look how it turned out.

"Going back to Villanova, that was big. Then beating the [Mid-American Conference] champs [Central Michigan], that was a big game. All I'm saying is, all of these games are separate. Even though we're beating champions, or [Connecticut], it can easily go south. We're not an established program yet. So for me, it's one game. I know [others] want to build a program off of it, but I've seen teams beat UConn, then lay an egg the next week.

"So, for us, it's about each game. It's harder now, because of the attention, but that's the reality of it. It's always been that way, and we're going to continue to do it."

It's his way. And the only way these Owls know.

"In past years, before the team really came together and was doing big things like we are now, winning, it would be hard for the players, not so much the coaches, but just the team in general to take this game as just another game," junior offensive tackle Steve Caputo said. "We'd always make it something bigger, put an asterisk next to it. Ever since we kind of got into this mode of just putting our heads down and working, now we're looking at Penn State as just the next step on the ladder. It's not a game we're circling on the schedule anymore.

"Obviously, people outside this building think a lot differently than we do. If we won, it would obviously mean a lot to us. But the next thing would be to focus on the next game [at Army]. But nationally, heads are going to turn. It would open their eyes. I think they'd start to recognize Temple University.

"In here, we'd be celebrating, getting hyped. But the next day, our heads would be down and we'd be back to work."

It's an approach that's brought them to this point. It figures to take them even further. What it might get them this weekend, we'll see.

But if nothing else, the story line no longer seems far-fetched. *