Penn State became Toilet Bowl eligible and Temple didn’t when on a cold day in Beaver Stadium, the mighty Nittany Lions (6-4, 1-4 Big Ten) defeated the Hooters 30-13 before an announced crowd of 100,173 hydrophobic fans, including about six who braved the journey from Philadelphia wearing Temple Maroon.
Had the game played out as it progressed in the first half, I would have been a big winner again in the Nittany Turkey Panel of Experts Sweepstakes, but as it turns out, K. John and the gamblers had it right. K. John’s commentary about the offensive line was also well stated and pretty accurate, although Gaia still has to go. Tackling one’s own running back in the backfield is a no-no. Anyhow, nice repeat win, K. John!
Honorable mention goes to Artificially Sweetened, who predicted that Penn State would score more points than in any prior game this year. If you had counted UMass as a practice scrimmage, her prediction would have been completely accurate.
The first half was a model of the season: boring, sloppy, and mistake prone. Penn State’s first drive fizzled in classical fashion, as they were inside the red zone poised to score a touchdown and then shot themselves in the foot, as usual, with a holding call that backed them up ten yards, causing them to settle for three points. Their second drive ended in a fumble by Bill Belton, which promptly got him benched for the remainder of the half. Temple responded with a field goal of their own. Next, the Nittany Lions couldn’t move the ball and punted. The fourth PSU drive ended in a Hackenberg interception and the next two were punts. Then at the end of the half, a Sam Ficken 50 yard field goal made it 6-3 Penn State.
That’s a typical Penn State first half in 2014, especially with the noon start, the cold, and the less than full Beaver Stadium. However, the second half would play out differently. Some hack so-called journalists will call it “A Tale of Two Halves” and to them I flip the almighty bird.
The second half didn’t start well for either team. Temple missed a field goal and Hack suffered his requisite second interception, which set up a Temple field goal. But Penn State replied with a touchdown on two long runs by the formerly disgraced Belton and the very effective Akeel Lynch. At that point, the Penn State defense decided that they would have to take over the game, and did so, with four interceptions and a fumble recovery.
The first interception of the hapless P. J. Walker by Adrian Amos was returned for 33 yards to the Temple 8 yard line. On the next play, Belton ran it (yes, RAN it) into the end zone. But Temple replied with a P. J. Walker 75-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Fitzpatrick, who badly beat Jordan Lucas, to make it 20-13 Penn State at the end of the third quarter. Temple wouldn’t score again after that. Penn State added a pick-six by Grant Haley, and then a Temple fumble led to a Sam Ficken 21 yard field goal.
One more interception of P. J. by Jesse Della Valle and a blocked Ficken field goal ensured that this game would not go into the history books as a pretty one. But Penn State got a 30-13 win, and that’s what the history book will show, first and foremost.
Christian Hackenberg had a fairly crappy day, but Walker’s was crappier. Hack’s line was 12-26 for 112 yards (making defenses cringe in terror), two INTs and no TDs, while Walker was 17-38 for 187 yards with one TD and FOUR INTs. Their QBRs wound up 12.7 and 10.5, respectively.
More importantly, the run was working for Penn State while the PSU defense pretty much shut down Temple’s running game, forcing the pass and the interceptions. (As Darrel Royal — not Woody Hayes — said first, “When you throw the ball, three things can happen, and two are bad.”). Although they sucked at third down conversions as usual, converting only four of 13, the Nittany Lions amazing rushers had 254 yards led by Akeel Lynch with 130 (net of the loss due to Gaia’s TFL) and Belton with 92. Meanwhile, Temple had more yards from interception returns (72) than they did from running the ball (61).
With eight turnovers and a blocked kick, this game was all I expected, but not being a Sanguinarian I failed to anticipate the improvements in the offensive line and hence, the running game. The defense was staunch and unyielding, as usual. Let me not overlook that. On the other hand, Hackenberg, whom the announcers thought had a renewed spring in his step, was unimpressive. He still holds onto the ball too long, makes poor decisions, rushes horrible throws, and he failed to spot an open DaeSean Hamilton and Bill Belton in the end zone on the same play. (Belton had stepped out-of-bounds and had come back in, making him ineligible, but Hack didn’t know that.) One ailing anatine* throw was so awful that it evoked thoughts of Alison on “The Affair.” Defenses are not terrified, man. The pass protection was better than usual in this game, but Akeel Lynch being bowled over on one play was pure comedy. Happily, the slopfest went Penn State’s way, primarily due to good defense.
I have to give the offense some credit, though. They racked up 19 first downs and hung onto the ball for almost 36 minutes.
I hope they can continue the good fortune next week against Illinois, a similarly crappy team. I’ll return with a closer look at the forthcoming trek to Champaign.
*anatine: adj. ducklike