Notes From Media Day
August 17, 2011 – | No Comment

Before I begin, I should probably explain why we haven’t posted in a while. Frankly, it’s just been bad timing. I just got back from a study abroad program in Europe, and Charlie is still …

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Penn State/Temple Gameday Blog

Submitted by on September 25, 2010One Comment

Penn State bounced back last week against Kent State, but even in a 24-0 shutout, the Lions looked less than impressive.  They’ve got one more week to figure things out before they kick off Big Ten play next week against Iowa, but if they’re looking past this Owl team they could be in for a surprise.  It’s another gorgeous day here in Happy Valley, and here’s to hoping the 3:30 start will help fill up the stadium, after last week’s embarrassing effort.

We’ll hope you stick with us here at quebecpenspinning throughout the game–I’m up in the press box again today, and I’ll be constantly updating this post with updates, reactions, and thoughts.  Later this evening, or tomorrow morning, I’ll have a recap and video of my interviews with some players.  But for now, let’s focus at the game at hand, as it’s the Al Golden and his undefeated Temple Owls coming in to Beaver Stadium, to take on a seemingly vulnerable Penn State squad.


Here’s what you need to know about this Temple team:

Bernard Pierce is starting to get hot. Just as Penn State expected to lean heavily on Evan Royster, so too did Temple expect big things out of their stud running back Bernard Pierce–who might be the best offensive player in the MAC.  Last year, as a true freshman, Pierce ran for nearly 1400 yards–averaging 5.8 per carry–and scored 16 touchdowns, leading to some very quiet Heisman conjecture heading into the season.  But until last week, he’d struggled to assert himself in 2010.  Before last week’s game against UConn, Pierce had rushed for just 132 yards in tight contests against Villanova and Central Michigan, and had to come out of the latter game with a hand injury.  But last week, Pierce broke out, with 169 yards and 2 TDs, as Temple put together their most complete offensive performance of the season.  He might not be Trent Richardson, but he’s a far better runner than anybody on the Kent State squad, and Temple will look to feature him against a Penn State rush defense that’s looked somewhat vulnerable.

Watch out for Jaiquawn Jarrett. Temple’s defense has been underwhelming, ranking firmly in the middle of the pack in just about every statistical category.  But you can’t blame Jaiquawn Jarrett for that.  When you’re watching this game, you’ll wonder why he’s not starting at safety for Penn State instead of Nick Sukay.  He’s a heavy hitter and a ballhawk, and is unsurprisingly one of the best safety prospects in the country.  This preseason, he was placed on the watchlist for the Jim Thorpe Award, and through three games this season has already picked off a pass and recovered three fumbles.  While he’s the anchor of an otherwise very mediocre Temple secondary, he could make an impact on this game, especially if Adrian Robinson–a prodigious edge rusher–can get to Robert Bolden.

Chester Stewart doesn’t make mistakes. With the emphasis on Bernard Pierce, Chester Stewart has been more of a game manager than anything. This is a Temple offense that ranks 92nd nationally in passing offense, but that’s just about where they’d like to be.  In three games, Stewart has completed more than 60% of his passes, and has thrown 2 touchdowns without an interception.  He’s only thrown 27, 22, and 21 passes, respectably, in the three contests, and has looked short more often than not.  We’ll see if Penn State learns from the Youngstown State debacle and plays more aggressively in the passing game, because if not, he can nickel and dime them down the field.  At the very least, Stewart will hope to have a better game than he did two years ago when Temple visited Penn State–he completed 16 of 30 passes for just 116 yards, and threw three interceptions as Penn State pounded the Owls, 45-3.

Three Questions for Penn State:

Is this the week Evan Royster gets going? I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but Evan Royster really is the biggest question mark on this Penn State team.  At this point, the Heisman candidacy is long since aborted, and it’s a given that he won’t be named an all-conference performer for the third straight year.  We just want to see signs of life from the young man who should soon be Penn State’s leading rusher–and that’s now should as opposed to will.  Despite playing cupcakes like Kent State and Youngstown State, he’s yet to accumulate more than 40 yards in any of Penn State’s first three tilts, and last week, we saw the beginnings of a controversy, as Stephfon Green received almost all the carries in the second half.  Now, it’s put up or shut up for Royster; with another poor effort he could be relegated to second string duty next week in Iowa City.

Does the shuffling continue? After the Alabama game, there was a sense of accountability surrounding this Penn State team.  The practices were the hardest the players could recollect, and that carried on to gameday.  It was Johnnie Troutman, not DeOn’tae Pannell at left guard.  We saw Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley starting for Eric Latimore and Jack Crawford. Khairi Fortt came in for Bani Gbadyu on a couple series, and in the most lasting change, Andrew Dailey at hero more often than Drew Astorino.  Word out of practice is that Astorino will be in the game only on passing downs–a welcome change, given Drew’s conspicuous struggles.  Also, Massaro is starting today, which hints that performance matters more to this staff than seniority.  This is Penn State’s last chance to piece things together before Iowa, so we’ll see whether they keep tinkering to find the lineup that generates the best results.

Does the evolution of Rob Bolden continue? For Penn State fans, it’s kind of weird to watch a young quarterback going through growing pains.  The last few passers for this team have all been juniors or seniors when they earned the starting job, so the onus was on them to produce immediately.  You need look no farther than the almost vehement hatred for Anthony Morelli and wistful memories of Pat Devlin to realize that Penn State fans expect results from their quarterback. But the Nittany Lion faithful has been patient with Rob despite his inconsistency, and his penchant for throwing interceptions.  But a clean game for Bolden would inspire plenty of confidence amongst a fanbase that you just know is at least somewhat uncomfortable with their 18-year old under center.

Looks like the 3:30 start isn’t helping much when it comes to attendance. It’s 3:30 now, and the upper level of the junior and senior sections are still empty.  If I remember correctly, that’s blocked seating, for fraternities and other groups, who can’t be bothered to stop tailgating and go in and watch the game.  The rest of the stadium is pretty packed though–pretty much a full sellout, except for the corners of the upper deck–and section NL in the north end zone.  It’s a pitiful turnout from the Temple faithful–it’s only a three hour drive, but they didn’t even come close to filling up the visitor’s alottment.


Temple wins the kick, and chooses to defer. Sure, Al Golden was only here for a year, but he learned that move from Joe Paterno.  After a short return, Penn State will start right at the 20, and it is Evan Royster in the backfield behind Rob Bolden.  And on the first play, it’s Royster off tackle–a vicious stiff arm and he’s free down the sideline for a gain of 50–which makes this his best rushing game of the season.  But despite first-and-ten from the Temple 30, Penn State has to settle for the field goal, and Wagner drills the 45-yarder right between the uprights.  Two minutes and 26 seconds in, it’s Penn State 3, Temple 0.

Starting on defense for the Lions are Mike Mauti, Pete Massaro, and Andrew Dailey, among the otherwise predictable crew.  Glad to see that the coaching staff is sticking with the changes they made last week.  And the adjustments worked out on that first drive–Penn State forces a three-and-out, and will start from their own 19.  But it’s a drive that lasts all of one play.  Evan Royster looks shifty and strong, fighting through tackles, but in the struggle to gain yardage, the ball pops out, and Temple takes over at the Penn State 28.  It’s unfortunate, because Royster looked so good before losing the ball.

It doesn’t take long for Temple to strike–an offsides penalty, an 18-yard rush by backup Matt Brown, and a 5-yard Bernard Pierce touchdown run gives Temple their first touchdown in the last four games between these two teams, and the early lead. Temple 7, Penn State 3.

But Penn State bounces back, as Rob Bolden takes the reins. First it’s an 18-yard strike under pressure, then a read-option keeper right up the gut that nets 14.  There’s plenty of Royster mixed in–and he looks far better than he has all season–but this was Bolden’s drive.  Heck, on 3rd and 4 from the 24, they go empty, as Bolden finds Brackett to get into the red zone.  But once they get in there, they’ll have to settle-again, for a field goal, as Bolden throws two incompletions into the end zone.  On the last one, a corner route by Chaz Powell, he sailed one into the third row.  A shame, since Powell was tackled by the Temple defender, but the pass was uncatchable.  Anyway, Wagner drills the 32 yarder, but Penn State still trails. Temple 7, Penn State 6.

But once again, it’s Temple’s offense moving the ball effortlessly. It didn’t matter that they were starting from their own 24 and not the Penn State 30, as they’re inside the red zone within a few plays anyway.  The big play is a 51-yard end around that gets Temple down to the Penn State 4.  And two plays later, Bernard Pierce has his second touchdown of the game. Temple had scored 9 points the last 4 meetings between these two teams, but they’ve eclipsed that in the first quarter alone today.  A bad snap screws up the extra point try, but it’s Temple 13, Penn State 6.

Thoughts: Penn State fans have been waiting to see their team put together a complete game, and their hopes were dashed early on in this one.  Penn State looked awfully slow against a MAC team in that first quarter, and they might have to relinquish the title “Linebacker U.”  Time after time, the unit was simply blown off the ball, giving Temple runners a free path to the second level.  On the big play–the 51 yard end-around, Temple sealed off the edge almost effortlessly.  Each big run has been off the right side, where Jack Crawford has been simply taken out of the play–but this awful first quarter is attributable to more than one player.  Even the normally steady D’Anton Lynn got torched, though Temple couldn’t take advantage on a deep ball.

The offense has looked a little better–discounting Evan Royster’s fumble, of course, but has failed twice, now, to finish off drives.  Last week, Penn State started hot and cooled off as the game went on. This performance is more like the Youngstown State performance–they simply haven’t woken up.  Joe Paterno needs to switch things up, because whatever the gameplan is, it’s simply not working.


The Penn State offense goes three and out, though, notably, it was Stephfon Green taking a pair of carries–and playing the role of Evan Royster (that is, getting hit almost immediately for no gain), and Temple starts at their own 40.  But on that series, they make their first  mistake of the game on 3rd and 3, as a wide open Temple receiver can’t hold on to the pass, forcing the punt.  Then again, that might not be such a bad thing, as Temple is able to down the punt inside the Penn State 1.  Facing a 99-yard field, we’ll see if Penn State can move the ball.

They’ll pound it out of the end zone, keeping the ball  on the ground. Joe Suhey picks up 4, then Royster gets the next 6 on a pair of runs.  Penn State gets some breathing room.  Then, Rob Bolden hooks up with Justin Brown, who’s replaced Graham Zug as the #2 receiver on this team, first on a strike to the outside, then a 33-yard toss down the sideline.  Penn State gets to the Temple 29 after a completion to Brett Brackett.  But then Rob Bolden gets drilled, and loses the ball–which rolls out of bounds back at midfield.  Temple should’ve recovered, but they couldn’t hold on to the bouncing ball along the sideline.  Still, it absolutely kills a promising drive.  Bolden actually comes back on 3rd and 27 and finds Garry Gilliam–who makes his first career catch for a 19 yard gain (fighting hard for the last five), though, as Wagner hits his 3rd field goal of the game, a 42 yarder.  Even considering that sack, it’s still a very impressive drive.  Whenever you start inside your own 1 yard line, you’ll take 3 points. Temple 13, Penn State 9.

We’re already seeing some changes on the defense, with Khairi Fortt in for Bani Gbadyu.  He certainly looks much quicker than Bani did–and simply reacts, rather than reading.  And after one first down, Penn State comes up with Chester Stewart’s first interception of the season, as Nick Sukay comes down from center field to pick off the pass and set Penn State up at the Temple 45.  A touchdown here could really send the momentum in Penn State’s favor, especially heading into the half.

Penn State goes to Evan Royster early and often, as he eclipses the century mark here in the first half.  He looks like a rejuvenated man today.  But a Bolden keeper on 3rd and 2 nets just 1, and Penn State has a decision to make.  They’ll take their third time out before deciding what to do.  The way Wagner’s looked today, this 42 yarder would probably be a gimme, but you have to think you could pick up about 2 feet against Temple.  They will go for it, Bolden straight ahead–and it doesn’t look like he got it.  They’ll measure but it doesn’t look good. And Temple will take over with 49 seconds left.  They’ll go into the half with the lead, barring a colossal mistake.  They don’t even chance it–kneeling twice, and it’s Temple 13, Penn State 9 at the end of the first half.

Halftime thoughts:

Eat your heart out, David Jones. If you don’t remember, he’s the one who predicted Penn State would go 6-6 this year, with a loss to Temple.  We dismissed it as ludicrous, but right now, he’s looking simply sagacious.

The fact is, Penn State really hasn’t been that bad.  They haven’t been outmanned or outclassed, but have made two or three key mistakes that have really loomed large in a game that’s a lot tighter than most of us could’ve expected.

The biggest problem has been finishing drives.  Penn State has moved the ball on four of their drives, but have just 9 points to show for it.  On fourth-and-1, you’ve got to be able to pick up a yard against this Temple defense. That’s not about scheming, just execution, and Temple seemed to want it more.

The other major worry has been the play of the linebackers.  Chris Colasanti hasn’t been invisible–quite the opposite, really. He’s been getting pushed around rather conspicuously, and for the second straight game, Khairi Fortt replaced Bani Gbadyu at the end of the first half.  Penn State has failed to recognize screens, and they’ve been weak at the point of attack.  When Temple hasn’t been gashing the Lion defense up the middle, they’ve been bouncing it outside for big gains.

Templs was supposed to be a test, but it wasn’t supposed to be this hard.  When you look at the stats, you almost wonder how–Penn State has run 37 plays to Temple’s 22.  They’ve held the ball for more than 18 minutes.  They compiled 90 more yards.  They converted 4 of 9 third downs, compared to 1 of 4 for the Owls.  But Temple took advantage of their scoring drives, and Penn State simply didn’t.

The sky is not falling.  With a strong performance in the second half, Penn State should still win this game.  This might be a reality check for the fanbase, but we probably weren’t giving Temple their due.  They’re a much better team–better coached, and with better athletes–than I expected.  Even if Penn State comes back strong and wins going away, Al Golden has cemented his spot as Joe Paterno’s replacement.

What do we want to see in the second half? A stronger commitment to running the ball in the red zone, and not just right up the middle.  More ingenuity on offense–get Devon Smith involved! And on defense, less of Jack Crawford and Chris Colasanti, and more of Khairi Fortt.  We need athletes right now, because Temple is stretching the Penn State defense east-west.


The Penn State defense looks better here in the second half. After one Bernard Pierce first down, the drive stalls quickly. Michael Mauti and Drew Astorino were the standouts on that series–and Astorino has looked much improved today. Drew, I apologize for most of the bad things I ever said about you.  And Khairi Fortt stays in for Gbadyu.

But the Penn State drive is even shorter–a three and out. On third and seven, Bolden hit Devon Smith over the middle, but Smith was tackled just shy of the first down marker.  After a short Anthony Fera punt and no return, Temple gets the ball back, starting from their own 35.  But the Penn State defense once again gets off the field quickly–it’s a three and out for Temple.  A little over 5 minutes in to the second half, and we’ve seen three stalled drives and one first down.  Penn State will start at their own 21.

It takes all of one play for Penn State to pick up their first 1st down of the second half–Evan Royster breaks a tackle in the line and bursts into the second level for a 19 yard gain.  With that run, Royster has more yards in this game than he did all season, coming in. Sorry, Stephfon, but Evan Royster is back.

But the good tidings don’t last long.  Penn State can’t pick up another third down, Lou Eliades goes down with an injury, and Anthony Fera is on for yet another punt.  This is his best of the game, forcing a Temple fair catch at the 7 yard line.  And two plays into Temple’s drive, Bernard Pierce goes down, and he’s being helped off by the trainers.  Doesn’t look like he’s putting any weight on the right leg.  On third and 6, Penn State brings the blitz and gets great pressure.  Stewart nearly goes down inside his own 2, but flips it forward to a blocking running back.  The pass falls incomplete, forcing a Temple punt.

And on the punt, Devon Smith takes it from midfield inside the Temple 5–but a very questionable holding call brings it back to the 49.  Still, great field position for the Lions. They get to the 30 on one play–a strike from Bolden to Brackett, and then Royster runs for 14 to bring the Lions into the red zone.  But once again, another promising drive ends in a field goal attempt.  There’s simply no creativity. Rob Bolden has thrown about a half dozen incomplete fades into the end zone. It’s like there’s no other play to run in that situation.  Fortunately, we’ve got Collin Wagner 2.0 back there.  The 32 yarder is a chip shot for him. Temple 13, Penn State 12.

No Bernard Pierce, no problem for Temple.  James Nixon, he of the 51-yard run, picks up 13 on the first play of the series, and then Chester Stewart goes deep and draws a questionable pass interference call on Drew Astorino.  But the officials huddle up, review it, and Penn State catches a break–the receiver stepped out of bounds, thereby making him ineligible, and waving off the penalty.  And then on 3rd and 10, Penn State dials up the pressure, and Stewart throws one right into the hands of Nate Stupar.  And Stupar returns it all the way down to the Temple 12, where Penn State will try to finish a drive for once.

Here’s a shocker–they don’t. And Penn State will ask Collin Wagner to kick his 5th field goal of the game.  From the distance of an extra point, he hits it, and puts the Lions back on top. Penn State 15, Temple 13. While I’m glad to see Wagner emerge as a consistent kicker in the mold of Kevin Kelly, Rob Bolden’s red zone struggles are extremely worrying.  Penn State has far outplayed Temple today, but the difference is that Temple has 2 touchdowns on their two scoring drives.

The Penn State defense came out of the locker room with a renewed sense of energy or something. I don’t know what it is, but they’ve just forced yet another three and out.  Pete Massaro has taken over at one defensive end spot, and Michael Mauti is standing out as the linebacker we all thought he’d be.  Last week, the defense got lucky in pitching a shutout–Kent State’s QB didn’t belong in the NCAA.  But in that third quarter, they looked pretty dominant.


Penn State gets great field position, starting at the Temple 40. And in one play, they’re down near the red zone, as Derek Moye makes a nifty sliding catch at the 22.  But by this point, you know what happens when Penn State gets near the end zone. It’s like they’ve got an allergic reaction to touchdowns.  On 3rd and 10, Bolden hits Brackett over the middle for a gain of 7, setting up yet another Collin Wagner field goal attempt.  And the previous five kicks must’ve tired him out–he misses the 32 yarder.  Can’t make ‘em all, I guess, but he was starting to seem automatic.  Still, it’s Penn State 15, Temple 13.

With Bernard Pierce out of the game, his backup, Matt Brown, is getting a chance to shine. He’s a shifty little kid, quick, too, and blessed with Devon Smith’s stature, at 5-5, 165–and he makes a nice cutback to pick up a Temple first down.  But when they keep it on the ground, the linebackers bottle him up. Kept in between the tackles, Brown can’t make anything happen, and the Penn State defense gets off the field again, forcing a punt after one first down.  But it’s another tremendous punt from Temple’s Jeff Wathne–a 57 yarder with a -1 yard return from Justin Brown.  The Lions will start inside their own 5.

Remember when Penn State started at their own 1, and drove the ball down the field before a field goal attempt? Well, Penn State will try to match that.  After a pair of short runs, a toss to Zug  picks up 19 and gets the Lions out of the shadow of their end zone.  Then Bolden hits Justin Brown for a 12-yard gain, as the Lions get out to their own 40.  And for the second time, Bolden delivers a beautiful pass on 3rd and long, hitting Brown again for 27 yards–and Brown is starting to come into his own as a bona fide star.  Then it’s Royster up the gut for 17, and Penn State sets up at the 15.  They’ll try something different immediately, handing the ball off to Mike Zordich, and Zordich moves a pile of about 10 guys for 8 yards–a truly ridiculous play.  So, why not keep at it. Zordich up the middle picks up the first. First and goal Penn State, and a touchdown puts this game away.  Royster gets Penn State down to the 2, and then Zordich finishes it off. Finally, dear god, finally, I can say it. Touchdown Penn State! Penn State 22, Temple 13. And the way the defense has played here in the second half, you have to think that puts this game away.

Temple’s last ditch drive picks up one first down but that’s it–on 3rd and 11, Chester Stewart is intercepted for the third time as Nick Sukay comes up with his second, an athletic grab that sets Penn State up at the Temple 46.  Coming into this game, Astorino and Sukay were vilified constantly by the message board enthusiasts, but both have been nothing short of phenomenal today.  And though this is just “kill clock” time, Evan Royster continues his awesome game with a pair of beautiful runs to bring his total mark to 179 yards on the day–a new career high for the embattled starter.  For all the crap he’s taken, the snide comments, it’s just great to see Evan bounce back like this.

And with that, I’m heading downstairs to get into JoePa’s press conference and talk to some players. This was not an impressive win, but boy, will I take it.

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    Like to forget about that quarter in Penn State Football history, 2 TDs Temple to 2 FG Penn State.