Before we get all carried away with Temple’s “tremendous” win Saturday or Penn State’s denial-driven excuses for what went down before a sellout crowd at Lincoln Financial Field, let’s face the reality here:
Take away the 74 years between Owls victories in this series and we’re not talking “shock” or “awe” over the outcome, or what took place during it.
This was no surprise, or stunner, or some Nittany Lions’ game plan gone horribly awry. No, this was a commanding, convincing effort by an unheralded team – even in its own venue. Oh, it went against the grain of what people had grown accustomed to in this lopsided series. But this was hardly a fluke, or some overachieving David catching Goliath off-guard act.
Anyone who watched that game on TV or witnessed it first-hand and still professes it to be an upset is either lying or has no clue. Underdogs, real underdogs, don’t dominate favorites for three quarters and change, and they certainly don’t get stronger as the game goes on.
The Owls’ defensive front, linebackers included, embarrassed the PSU offensive line. It pounded the prodigy, PSU junior QB Christian Hackenberg, sacking him 10 times. The moment that group really gained its footing – shutting down the Lions on three plays following their recovery of a Temple fumble at its own 43 – this one was over. It signaled the beginning of the end for the Ruthian-sized curse that had plagued the Cherry & White for, oh, so long.
Taking over after the ensuing punt, the Owls marched 93 yards to score a TD and start a 27-0 run to close the game. They were never challenged from that point on because they controlled the line of scrimmage. The PSU offense that netted 126 yards in jumping out to a 10-0 first-quarter lead only mustered 54 more the remaining three frames.
Temple, frankly, could have rolled up a bigger score. But its head coach, Matt Rhule, exercised some class once the outcome was inevitable.
Thing is, this was no glorious victory over a great opponent. It was an exorcism of some demons that had haunted Temple and its fans for generations, sure. But beating Penn State, this extremely mediocre edition of Penn State that, truthfully, is still feeling the after-effects of probation the last three years, is not worthy of giving the Owls mention as, say, the Football Writers Association of America’s “Team of the Week.”
Temple followers too giddy with their team finally upending PSU and getting some “pub” are kinda failing to grasp what a back-handed compliment that honor is. Temple, right now, should beat Penn State. It’s better.
It is better coached, better organized, hungrier and, not for nothing, but enough with the “talent gap” talk, as if the Owls had to overcome some great discrepancy there in order to just remain on the same field with the Lions, never mind beat them, thoroughly. Trust your eyesight and ability to gauge what is happening out there, and not just rely on what some recruiting site posted.
You think Tyler Matakevich wouldn’t be the best linebacker for PSU if he were there instead of Temple? That Kyle Friend wouldn’t be the Lions' best offensive lineman? Or players up and down the Owls lineup wouldn’t be starting over their counterparts had they been granted the glory of a free ride to State College?
If so, keep dreamin’ …
Full disclosure … I like Penn State. A lot. In fact, I’d like to see the program succeed – when it isn’t playing Temple (or my other alma mater, Illinois). I’m not the typical Temple alum/diehard who hates the Lions and their faithful like no other, casting ill-conceived aspersions on them at every juncture. I covered the Lions as a sports writer/columnist for 16 years, including those that Rhule, ironically enough, happened to be a bit player for them. It was a great experience, and one I thoroughly enjoyed since it afforded me the opportunity to really get to know the program.
Thing is, the football program in Happy Valley hasn’t been elite in more than two decades. It’s last truly great team was the one headed by the NFL first-round draft triumvirate of Ki-Jana Carter, Kerry Collins and Kyle Brady … and a bunch of really good players that so many of those self-promoting “hardcore, lifelong” PSU fans have never heard of. That squad rolled to a 12-0 campaign 21 years ago, taking the 1995 Rose Bowl along the way. It was dominant, embarrassingly so, and the Lions haven’t had an outfit anywhere close to that since.
Oh, they’ve had some great players come along since, no doubt – mostly linebackers, with LaVar Arrington, Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor and Sean Lee, leading the way. But, if anything, 11-win teams in 2005 and 2008 were seen as “out of the blue,” overachieving ones – ummm, gulp, underdogs defying the odds, if you will. Even before the scandal came to light in 2011, the Lions football program had been, well, struggling, having finished unranked in six of the 11 seasons leading up to then, with four losing campaigns to boot.
Frankly, PSU no longer is viewed as a regular challenge to the likes of Ohio State or Wisconsin or Michigan State in the Big Ten, never mind for national-title honors because it isn't … and this year’s Lions, they didn’t come into 2015 ranked and they’re not expected to exit it ranked, either.
So, yeah, that’s great the Owls finally topped PSU. But let’s keep things in perspective here. Temple has had bigger wins in the past, as recently as 10 months ago when it upended No. 23 East Carolina, and it has a much more formidable foe upcoming this week in American Athletic Conference favorite Cincinnati.
Enjoy the moment, sure. But live in it, too. Temple has much bigger goals than winning this one game. As a program on the rise, it should.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org