Saturday, the Owls have about as clear a shot at Penn State as they have ever had. Both teams are 5-4 and packed in the middle of their respective conferences. Both have been carried by efforts from impressive defenses, in spite of lethargic offenses.
Penn State's offensive struggles don't boil down necessarily to a lack of talent at skill positions. However, sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg is constantly under pressure, and it's taken a toll on the offense's ability to produce. He has thrown for 2206 yards on 347 attempts this season with seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Penn State just had their first 100-yard rusher (Bill Belton) last weekend against Indiana in a 13-7 win. Temple's defense has looked good most of the season. Despite Penn State's offensive struggles, if Temple is going to take down Penn State, they are going to need their defensive line to really swing the hammer this weekend.
Hershey Walton, Matt Ioannidis, Praise Martin-Oguike, and Sharif Finch have arguably been the most consistent unit on the team, so it's not out of the question. Their play is mostly responsible for Temple's #10 scoring defense nationally. I think they will be able to keep Penn State within striking distance for the offense for at least three quarters. It's whether or not the offense comes through with a sound performance that decides if they will be able to get over the top.
Penn State's defense has held its own, keeping opponents to 16.6 points per game (good for 6th in the nation.) More impressive than that is their top-ranked rushing defense, which surrenders only 85.6 yards per game. Temple's running back triumvirate of Jahad Thomas, Kenneth Harper, and Jamie Gilmore has looked good this season, but Saturday looks like rough sledding.
P.J. Walker is still barely treading water, but his athletic ability is a useful factor in this game. Getting him on some designed roll-outs and allowing him to be a threat with his feet could freeze defenders who would otherwise be able to commit to the pass. It's a simple idea, but I'm not sure it will ultimately matter. The passing offense has been pitiful this season, and this week is as tough a prospect as any for redemption.
Penn State 24, Temple 13
I think Temple's defense will really be able to impress people this week against a major conference opponent. I think they will keep the game close for most of the game and surrender some late dagger points after being on the field all day, because their offense couldn't move the ball with any consistency. We'll see how close that projection is on Saturday at noon.