ARE THE Penn State Nittany Lions taking the Temple Owls "lightly" in today's suddenly interesting in-state rivalry?
Well, yes. And no. It depends on which way you choose to look at it.
Temple's huge offensive line, which averages 6-5 and 319 pounds, is significantly larger than Penn State's trimmed-down defensive line. The Owls probably have the largest o-line the Lions will face until the Nov. 12 home game against Nebraska and the Nov. 26 regular-season finale at Wisconsin, programs that regularly produce blocking fronts as large as a row of tractors, and as difficult to budge or get around.
Not that Penn State's defensive linemen are undernourished runts, but an offseason weight-loss campaign has led to several key performers coming in leaner, meaner and, presumably, quicker and more durable.
So, does big-and-strong trump fast-and-agile? Or is it the other way around? Stay tuned. The course of the remainder of the season for the Owls (2-0) and Lions (1-1) might be gauged by the disparate philosophies that will be tested in the trenches at Lincoln Financial Field.
The heart of the Lions' interior defense - tackles Devon Still and Jordan Hill - go 6-5, 310 and 6-1, 297, respectively. That's the official heights and weights listed on the depth chart. But Hill, who was listed at 311 a year ago when he played in every game with four starts, insists he's even lighter than advertised.
Asked to identify the longest stride he has taken since last season, from rotation-type guy to mainstay, he said, "Probably this past summer, working hard to get my weight down."
Even Still, whom Hill describes as a "beast," is probably not as massive as his listed 6-5, 310. Oh, the height is right, but Penn State d-line coach Larry Johnson said Hill's actual poundage is closer to 300.
Still's high-level of play - he regularly drew double- and sometimes even triple-team blocks in last week's 27-11 loss to Alabama, an unmistakable sign of respect from a nationally prominent opponent - is not surprising. When he hasn't been injured (he's missed time with a torn anterior ligament and broken ankle since arriving in Happy Valley in 2007), Still has given every indication he will someday have a career in the NFL, as did his cousins, Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Art Still and Pittsburgh Steelers (and, for a while, Eagles) linebacker Levon Kirkland.
Hill, however, has sort of sneaked his way into prominence. The Steelton, Pa., native, who has taken the spot vacated by 3-year starter Ollie Ogbu, entered spring drills competing with Brandon Ware, James Terry and DaQuan Jones for the starting role alongside Still. But Ware transferred to Eastern Arizona Junior College, and Terry and Jones are listed as second-teamers behind Hill and Still, respectively.
So dedicated to raising his play was Hill that he was voted the Jim O'Hora Award, annually presented to the most improved defensive player during spring practice.
"There was an opening," he said of turning aside the other contenders for Ogbu's slot, "so I wanted to go in and try to secure a job."
The weight-loss thing aside, Hill said he, Still and other Penn State players know that the Temple team they're facing isn't the same bunch that the Lions have treated as their personal whipping boys for, like, forever. The last Temple victory in the lopsided series came on Oct. 18, 1941.
Penn State's hard-fought 22-13 victory over the Owls a year ago in Beaver Stadium made believers of the Lions, and if that didn't, watching tape of Temple's routs of Villanova (42-7) and Akron (41-3) this year did.
"Coach [Al] Golden [now at Miami] definitely had that program on the rise," Hill noted. "The new guy [Steve Addazio] who came in from Florida isn't doing anything but help their program go up even more.