Disappointing Penn State Offense Leads to Historic Upset in 2015 Season Opener
PHILADELPHIA - Allowing 10 sacks and giving up 27 unanswered points, Penn State lost to Temple 27-10 in an historic upset Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
After all of the talk this offseason, the Nittany Lions’ offensive line allowed star quarterback Christian Hackenberg to take a beating.
All eyes have been on the 6-foot-4, 228 pound quarterback since his arrival in Happy Valley in 2013. Those eyes have only multiplied as he embarks on possibly his final season at Penn State.
His junior season opener did not go as smoothly as the previous two, where he combined to complete 54-of-78 passes for 732 yards.
Opening the fourth quarter facing a 3rd-and-long trailing 17-10, Hackenberg was sacked for the eighth time of the game, despite the Owls only sending two pass rushers.
"It is what it is," Hackenberg said of the offensive line's performance. "We're going to go to the film, learn from it. That's what we can do, you can't talk."
He admitted that it might have been a combination of both Temple's defensive front and miscommunication in the Penn State offensive line.
That sequence summarized the Nittany Lions play last season and the most of the game Saturday. If that storyline holds in 2015, Hackenberg’s time in Happy Valley may almost certainly be over after this season.
The Penn State offensive line, which returns four starters from last season, looked just like had last season: the same "disappointing" protection from last year.
Ten sacks in game one of 12, in which the offensive line will see much stiffer competition than Temple, is not a promising sign for Franklin.
"When you play the way we played today, I would be disappointed," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "People can question. It's our job to silence the question, to get out on the field and produce.
"Literally, our best five [offensive lineman] are playing," Franklin said. "You don't want to hear it, but the truth is we still have some challenges there."
After jumping out to a fast start, scoring 10 points through the opening 10 minutes of the contest, Penn State appeared poised to take care of business.
The Nittany Lions defense came out disciplined and cohesive, disrupting rushes before gaps could form and quickly wrapping up receivers as soon as they caught the ball.
This type of play forced the Owls into three consecutive three-and-outs to start the game; however the Penn State offense could not spell much rest time for the defense.
A late second quarter drive that ended in a 1-yard touchdown run by Jahad Thomas gave Temple their first points and more importantly, momentum heading into halftime.
The Owls carried that momentum until they were finally able to take the lead with a 1-yard run from quarterback P.J. Walker in the final minute of the third quarter.
Temple poured it on in the fourth quarter, as a 24-yard touchdown run from Thomas on the next possession gave the Owls the confidence they needed to close out Penn State for the first time since 1941.
Hackenberg finished the game 11-for-25 for 103 yards and an interception.
Akeel Lynch took 10 carries for 78 yards and the lone Penn State touchdown.
Sophomore Chris Godwin picked up where he left off last season, grabbing five catches and 81 yards, while the trio of Geno Lewis, DaeSean Hamilton and Brandon Polk combined for 20 yards on four catches.
Senior defensive end Carl Nassib was one of a few bright spots for Penn State, as he had 10 tackles, including two-and-a-half tackles for loss--both career highs. Nassib also recorded a sack, the second of his career.
The Nittany Lions suffered a long-term blow in the first quarter when Nyeem Wartman-White left the field with an apparent knee injury. After the game, coach Franklin revealed the team has lost the Philly native for the remainder of the season.
The loss of Wartman-White is a crushing setback for defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and the defense, as the redshirt junior was primed to fill the shoes of Mike Hull at the middle linebacker position.
The kicking game is another question mark as replacing Sam Ficken will be a tall order. Redshirt freshman Joey Julius has been appointed as the successor and Julius capitalized on his opportunity, nailing a 30-yard field goal to cap Penn State’s opening drive.
Thomas controlled the ground game for the Owls, breaking loose for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries.
The junior running back finished the 2014 season with just 384 total yards.
Temple coach Matt Rhule, a State College native, became just the third former Nittany Lion to beat Penn State as an opposing head coach.
"I'm really proud of Temple ... hopefully this won't be the highlight of the season," Rhule said. "It's not the fact that we beat Penn State, it's the fact that we won."
Walker did enough to guide his team to victory, not turning the ball over while effectively testing the Penn State secondary that conceded two crucial pass interference penalties that ended in touchdown possessions.
He distributed the ball evenly amongst his receiving options, completing a pass to eight different receivers.
Walker and Thomas, who have been teammates dating back to high school, backed by an experienced defense, will look to lead this Temple program to a promising 2015 campaign with hopes of gaining traction on the local recruiting turf.
The loss snaps a 31-game win streak and 39-game unbeaten streak overall for Penn State over Temple.
"I'm just as disappointed as everybody that watched the game and so are our players. I'm not going to be defensive or make excuses, we have to get it done, " Franklin added.
The Nittany Lions will return to Happy Valley as they host Buffalo Sept. 12 in their home opener. Tune into ComRadio to hear the game live from Beaver Stadium.
Marley Paul is a senior digital and print journalism major at Penn State. Contact him via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @MPaulPSU
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