You knew the keystone battle between the Temple Owls and Penn State Nittany Lions was going to be a heated matchup attending the pre-game tailgate. A beautiful clash of red, white and blue engulfed the Lincoln Financial Field parking lot as the respective team's fan base broke into melodic chants up until the start of the game.
Go Owls, let's go Temple Owls. #BeatPSU #BeatPennState #TUFB #PhillyProud #TempleTuff… https://t.co/IehLDjXVYn— Kevin Otte (@KevinOtteTV) September 5, 2015
Battle cries of "We are!" serenaded the stadium when the PSU jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but the Cherry Crusade and pro-Temple crowd eventually had their day with fireworks a continuous sight in the second half.
The first stat that jumps off the sheet is the 10 sacks Temple accumulated on Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg. The junior looked to be in trouble early as Temple got to him four times in the first half, but it became second nature for the defense in the third and fourth quarters.
Head Coach Matt Rhule articulated on the many factors that contributed to the lofty total:
"Nate D. (Smith) had a couple of spin moves and Tyler (Matakevich) added on a couple of times. The one long throw, he was about that far away from having another sack. I thought a lot of guys did their jobs, but a lot of guys won their one-on-one's to get us in those situations."
Matakevich led the charge with three sacks which doubled his season total from last year (1.5) despite being heavily recognized as a tackler first who makes plays in space. Defeating Penn State was just another, yet paramount, game, but he's focused on the big picture:
"We just take it one game at a time. You beat a team like Penn State and people are going to start talking. You just got to block it out and we call it 'what's next?'. We beat them and what's next? We got Cincinnati. That's our mindset."
On the heels of facing a quarterback of Hackenberg's caliber, Cincy's Gunner Kiel is another player Rhule has to plan for and attack. Kiel, a former Notre Dame recruit, led a 14-6 victory last year at the Linc. With both teams in the same division for the first time, the ramifications are amplified.
Temple's P.J. Walker played a safe and error free game against Penn State saturday going 15-for-20 with 143 yards through the air.
Looking at social media shows how much @Temple_FB win today means to all of @TempleUniv alums! Great how sports touches lives #WeTheT— Larry Dougherty (@Ldoc32) September 6, 2015
Walker's achilles heel last year was the pension to force the ball to his receivers and make plays. He evidently hit his targets across the middle and wasn't consistently pressured into making extraordinary plays for the offense. Tying in the fact that Temple's receivers hauled in passes made it easier for the junior. Despite having the ball on offense for more than 13 minutes than the Nittany Lions, the continuous reps allowed Walker to eventually dial in and shake off the rust.
After the game, he talked about playing with confidence and how it benefited him in the season opener.
"It's just the mindset. You got out there and still play cocky, but just don't play out of character. I look at it like 'do what you've been doing since when you were seven years old'. Just go out there and play football. It's that easy."
It looked easy at times for Walker who only had one fumble and wasn't consistently bull-rushed by arguably one of the nation's best defensive lines.
On the topic of D-line, Haason Reddick started in place of Praise Martin-Oguike on the edge for the Owls. He told me he wasn't filling in for anybody and he earned the right to start. Reddick recorded a sack on Christian Hackenberg in the first half and was one of many to do so on the day for Temple.
Another player looking to make an impact on the other side of the ball was Temple running back Jahad Thomas. Thomas shared time in the backfield with Kenny Harper last season, but with Harper graduating, Thomas capitalized in the featured role Saturday. He had trouble early starting his ignition, but the junior revved up as the game went along.
Jahad Thomas just went in 24 yards out. The Linc is going nuts.— OwlScoop.com (@OwlScoop_com) September 5, 2015
On 29 carries, Thomas had a game-high 135 yards on the ground and outscored the Nittany Lions with two touchdowns. The breakthrough performance is encouraging for the Owls who look like they've found their bell cow throughout the season.
Thomas displayed a plethora of moves on the Nittany Lions including hesitation cuts and spin moves for extra yards. Jahad's humbleness in his abilities illustrates his willingness to improve on the pivotal performance for the Owls:
"It feels great to be able to be blessed with that gift to make moves in the open field. It's a great feeling to know that you're blessed to do so. I definitely don't take it for granted. I just got to keep working on it and keep getting better."
Thomas is just one of plenty potential breakout candidates for the Owls on offense. Robby Anderson, who led the team in receiving and receiving touchdowns in 2013, only had five catches for 20 yards and red zone threat Romond Deloatch only had one catch for 19 yards.
Both Tavon Young and Sean Chandler effectively shut down Da'Sean Hamilton and Geno Lewis for Penn State. Akeel Lynch only touched the ball four times in the second half despite leading the team with 78 yards rushing for the game. Temple will have to contain a second potent offense next week against Kiel and the coup of Cincinnati wideouts while finding balance on offense.