Why Temple Has A Chance To Win On Saturday
Don’t sleep on Temple, Penn State fans. The Owls were one of the most improved teams from 2013 to 2014, and now they’re returning all 11 starters from last year’s top-20 defense. We all know how Penn State’s offense was and projects to be, and fans shouldn’t expect a repeat of last year’s ugly 30-13 matchup.
Penn State and Temple both went 6-6 last year. The Nittany Lions went on to win the Pinstripe Bowl but the Owls didn’t get a bowl bid — the former’s strength of schedule was decent, the latter’s wasn’t very good. Still, the Owls won four more games in 2014 than they did the year before. No one expects them to continue to ride that momentum to a 10-2 season, but there’s almost no chance they regress.
Before projecting these two teams moving forward, let’s look back at how they compared overall last year. Penn State and Temple ranked No. 107 and 119 respectively in total offensive yards, though Temple came in at No. 99 in points-per-game, while the Nittany Lions were at a measly No. 113. Both programs showcased elite defenses, though. Penn State allowed the second-fewest yards in the country, while Temple just cracked the top 25. Both teams also were in the top ten in points allowed. Though there are key differences in a Big Ten and AAC schedule, those statistics held true over 12 games — they aren’t flukes.
So the two teams have very similar makeups. They have complete defenses with many or all starters returning, but their offenses have questions that can only be answered by time. Quarterbacks Christian Hackenberg and P.J. Walker are both entering their junior years, and are both coming off seasons where they threw more interceptions than touchdowns. On one hand, I’ve never heard Walker’s name mentioned as a potential high NFL Draft pick, but I also haven’t seen Temple’s offensive line catch as much flak as Penn State’s has. Temple is returning seven linemen with starting experience, and that might be what makes the difference in the passing game — Walker should have more time to throw (unless Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson explode for like, five sacks, which could actually happen), and Hackenberg will have better receivers but less time to hit them.
However, no matter who seems to have the upper hand, it isn’t likely that offense will win this game. It’ll come down to whose defense stands tall, especially if the game is close late. Temple has probably one of the three best defenses Penn State will face this year. Bear with me for some more statistics please:
The S&P+ stat, invented by Bill Connelly, puts a number on what he believes are the most important parts of college football: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and a mix of turnovers and sacks. Essentially, it’s one of the most thorough analyses of intangibles and is a fair statistics to base a team’s success off of.
The 2-10, 2013 Temple Owls ranked 113th in defensive S&P+. In 2014, they were No. 16 — a 97-spot improvement, the biggest jump in one year by any team in the ten-year history of the statistic. A similar jump this year is by every means impossible, but with all 11 starters returning, why can’t they rank higher than 16 this year?
Now’s a good time to note that Penn State ranked at No. 4. Deion Barnes, Adrian Amos, and Mike Hull have moved on, but defensive coordinator/savant Bob Shoop is still here. The on-field product on Saturday should be two sporadic offenses facing off with two of the best defenses in the country, and the winner will be decided (obviously) by which offense steps up or which defense makes a rare mistake.
What shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear is that the home-field advantage this weekend will be close to non-existent. Lincoln Financial Field holds 68,500 people, yet Temple averaged 23,370 fans at home games with a peak of 28,408 last season. If a contingent of entirely Temple fans goes to the game and matches last year’s peak, that still leaves 40,092 seats for the Penn State faithful who a) love to travel and b) already have a huge presence in Philly. Expecting #40kStrong at an away game is lofty, but realistically, the stadium should be about half-and-half.
So, Penn State fans, be wary of Temple. It’s a good program, and though Penn State is deservedly the favorite, don’t expect a big win — maybe not even by two scores.