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Brief Interviews with Hideous Men: Temple Edition

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With Penn State taking on the Owls this Saturday, we went straight to the source for inside information on Temple football.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Temple and Penn State enter Saturday's game more comparable than anyone would've expected before the season. The squads sport identical 5-4 records, one that belies a strong defense and scuffling offense. The Owls haven't won a game in this "rivalry" since 1941, but as Maryland proved two weeks ago, if the upset's going to happen, this year's as good a chance as they might get for the foreseeable future.

Anyway, for the scoop on this Owl squad, we went to Steve Sabato, who covers Temple for Underdog Dynasty--which covers all the mid-major programs and is always worth a read. Thanks, Steve!

Black Shoe Diaries: Penn State fans have developed a fatigue about playing Temple. Does the opportunity to knock off the in-state big brother still excite the Temple fanbase, after all these meetings?

Underdog Dynasty: For a program with Temple's history, winning is already pretty exciting. Beating Penn State for only the fourth time in their 43rd meeting would be pretty meaningful for Temple.

BSD: Temple comes in at 5-4, with a blowout win over Vanderbilt, and knocked off a trendy ECU team two weeks ago. What's been responsible for the remarkable turnaround from last year's 2-10 team?

UD: Last year's team was incredibly young (as is this year's) and they lost a lot of close games then. Another year of experience, another year of Matt Rhule instituting his principles, and another recruiting class have all probably contributed in some equal measure to the team being markedly improved this season.

BSD: There aren't too many familiar names still around from the last time these two teams played. Which Owls should Penn State fans keep an eye out for?

UD: Start with the quarterback, P.J. Walker. He's as electric as any athlete in the conference, but he's gone through some growing pains this year--mostly with his accuracy. He was leading the American in completion percentage before the Tulsa game, and he's been firing at or below 50% since. He's too talented to discount him while he struggles, but he has definitely been a conundrum for Rhule's team. Jahad Thomas is their most talented running back, but they usually will roll with the hot hand, whether it's him, Kenneth Harper, or Jamie Gilmore. Jalen Fitzpatrick, a wide receiver and one of the few seniors on the team, is worth your attention as well.

On defense, it's all about Tyler Matakevich. The rangy linebacker can make plays anywhere on the field and is the cornerstone of this team's defense. However, the defense as a whole has been surprisingly strong this season, especially Tavon Young and the upstart secondary. However, Penn State fans should keep their eyes keyed on the defensive line of Praise Martin-Oguike, Matt Ioannidis, Hershey Walton, and Sharif Finch. They have been giving offensive lines trouble all year, and I know Penn State has had their issues on the line this season. If Temple is going to pull off the upset, it will start there.

BSD: Much like Penn State, Temple seems to feature an anemic offensive and a dominant defense. What schemes, on both sides of the ball, do the coaching staff tend to favor?

UD: On offense, Temple is pretty committed to the shotgun spread, but run nearly a 50/50 split in terms of play selection. The passing attack seems to prefer vertical routes without relying on them, and the running game is pretty straightforward with a little read-option mixed in. Marcus Satterfield led some fairly prolific offenses at the FCS level with Tennessee-Chatanooga, and I think he's on his way with this one, but he hasn't gotten all the ingredients in place yet. On defense, Phil Snow runs a 4-3 that utilizes Walton as a nose-tackle instead of the typical 2 DT/DE alignment. Snow is also an advocate of man coverage, which has worked well for Temple's athletic secondary, especially corners Tavon Young and Sean Chandler.

BSD: For Temple to beat Penn State, what will have to go right for the Owls?

UD: I touched on this a little bit before, but Temple's going to need to win up front on defense first. Penn State has them outgunned, but if their defensive line can create enough havoc to keep the score low, the offense will be in position to steal this one. However, that requires the offense to be successful at all. That's been a dicey proposition recently. If they establish the run early, it will open things up for Walker and the passing attack. I'm not sure it will matter, but it will help.

BSD: How do you see this one shaping up?

UD: I think Penn State takes this one 24-13. Temple has done a lot of things right this season, but it's going to be another year before I think Rhule and company have everything in place for a real run as contenders in the conference and abroad.

Thanks again, Steve, and remember to read Underdog Dynasty all season long to stay up to date on Temple, and on the other less-covered football programs around the coutnry