To beat Penn State, Temple needs to jump-start offense

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Temple wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick. (Derik Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

For many of their classmates and fans, this week for the Temple football team has been about beating the cross-state rival.

However, the games between the schools haven't produced a rivalry considering that Temple last scored a victory here in 1941.

But there is something of importance to both teams hanging in the balance. The game's winner becomes bowl eligible.

"It would really be great to have that opportunity again," Temple running back Kenneth Harper, one of three current players on the roster to play in a bowl game, said. "We have been working hard to put ourselves in the position to go. It would be nice to get a win there, considering how hard it's been for us to win there."

Temple (5-4), which started the season 4-1, has lost three of its last four games and has been inconsistent on offense. Penn State (5-4), Temple coach Matt Rhule's alma mater, won its first four games but then lost four straight before last week's win at Indiana. And the Nittany Lions have scored just four offensive touchdowns in regulation in their last five games.

However, Penn State leads the nation in rushing defense (86.6) and is third in total defense (267.6).

"I don't think there's any question they are the best defense we are going to see this year," Rhule said. "So we're going to have to try some wrinkles and maybe catch them off guard if we are going to be successful against that defense."

In the first five games the Owls averaged 38.2 points. Since that time they've averaged just 14.25.

"We need to get [the offense] started early," said Harper, who last week rushed for a season-high 116-yards, including a 75-yard touchdown.

Harper is one of the few current Owls who played in the last Penn State game, won by the Nittany Lions, 24-13, at Happy Valley in 2012. That game was played in front of almost 94,000 fans. Harper said that the Owls, who regularly play in a near-empty Lincoln Financial Field, can't be overwhelmed by the size of the crowd.

"No, you really have to go up there and be in the moment," Harper said. "It can be overwhelming if you let it get to you. But I don't think that's going to be a problem for us."

Temple's leading receiver, Jalen Fitzpatrick (knee and ankle), and starting cornerback Tavon Young (head and neck) are game-time decisions.

 


Temple at Penn State

When: Saturday at noon

Where: Beaver Stadium, State College

Records: Temple (5-4); Penn State (5-4).

TV/Radio: ESPN2; WPEN-FM (97.5), WNTP-AM (990), WNPV-AM (1440).

Coaches: Temple, Matt Rhule (second season, 7-14). Penn State, James Franklin (first season, 5-4; 29-19 in four seasons overall).

Series: Penn State holds a 38-3-1 lead and has won 30 straight games - 29 of them coming since the series resumed on a semi-annual basis in 1975. The Owls' last win, 14-0, came in 1941. The NCAA has vacated seven victories by the Nittany Lions.

Three Things to Watch

The Owls have struggled mightily throwing the ball. The passing attack could be even more compromised against the Nittany Lions if leading receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick (37 catches, 512 yards, five touchdowns) can't play due to knee and ankle injuries.

While the Nittany Lions' run defense has been virtually impregnable this season, look for the Owls to attack them to the outside. To abandon the running game against the nation's top run defense simply puts too much pressure on quarterback P.J. Walker, who like Hackenberg is struggling as a sophomore.

Turnovers have been a big story for Temple this season, with the Owls having claimed 25 takeaways (17 fumble recoveries, eight interceptions). Christian Hackenberg threw two more interceptions last week giving him 12 for the season, and Penn State cannot afford to give Temple short fields. - John N. Mitchell and Joe Juliano


jmitchell@philly.com

@JmitchInquirer