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F*** IT, DUDE, LET'S GO BOWLING: Penn State 30, Temple 13

For the first time since 2011, Penn State football will be playing in a bowl game. Let's celebrate.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Early on, it was troubling. By halftime, it was apparent. And by the middle of the third quarter, we'd all become resigned to the fact that if Penn State was going to win this game and become bowl-eligibile, they'd have to do it in spite of Christian Hackenberg. It was only Hackenberg's struggles that kept this one close, early, that prevented a Nittany Lion team that had dominated yardage and time of possession from having that supremacy reflected on the scoreboard.

But oh, were they up for the challenge.

The defense, save for a blown coverage that accounted for Temple's lone touchdown, was as good as it's been this season--and it's been really, really good this season. Penn State forced five turnovers (six if you include a fourth down stand), all in the second half, each better than the last, one returned to the house and continuing the drive to make Pick Six University a source of pride rather than a running joke at our expense. At halftime, Temple hadn't converted a first down, and by game's end, they'd only managed three of 16. Temple's two other scoring drives both started in Penn State territory, and it was only PJ Walker's elusiveness that kept the Lions from racking up the sacks. The resurgent Trevor Williams was out, but Grant Haley and Christian Campbell both stepped in and intercepted passes en route to replacing him with the utmost cromulence. Bob Shoop's defense is almost unquestionably the best in the Big Ten, has a very real claim to being one of the best in the country,  and deserves so much more than an offense that's spent most of this season only making their job tougher. Here's to hoping they'll get a fun matchup--maybe with the triple option of Georgia Tech?--in the bowl game, you guys!

The running game, after showing signs of life last week, finally clicked--it certainly helps to have Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach lining up next to one another for the first time this season. When Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton weren't bursting outside for long runs, they were hitting the hole with speed and grinding out the tough yards up the middle. Even the much-maligned wildcat worked when it was called for. Yes, Penn State ran all over UMass, but UMass is terrible. This was by far the best performance from the Penn State backfield this season, and it's a reason for real confidence moving forward--all the way to the bowl game, you guys!

And the special teams! They were totally competent! Sam Ficken nailed all three of his field goals that made it over the line--because of course he did--but the one right before half, a 50-yarder, might have tested the faith of even the true believers, and yet it was perfect and straight and right down the middle with plenty of leg to spare. Hopefully the Groza committee was watching. Even the punting was solid--Danny Pasquariello didn't have a great game, but he didn't shank any, either, and his five punts were returned for 3 yards, total. Grant Haley had one nice kick return, and didn't trip over his own feet on any of them. All in all, a group that has cost Penn State wins this year and in the recent past only had one real hiccup this year--a blocked field goal, late, the fourth of the season.

But delighting in Penn State's successes--and celebrating its bowl berth, might be to bury the lede. The comfortable win puts a rosy glow on everything, but let's not forget just how down we were, early, on Hack.

This season has been one of excuses--many legitimate among of them--for Hackenberg's struggles. Today, few of them could apply. The run game was, if not dominant, then at least consistent, steady, and competent. The offensive line, with Smith and Dieffenbach together for the first time all season, gave him plenty of time to throw. There were few indications of miscommunications between Hack and his receivers--his throws just sailed high or wide or behind wide-open targets. This is still a John Donovan offense, but it's not all John Donovan's fault that Christian Hackenberg is still making freshmen mistakes--and new ones that he didn't even make a year ago, when he was under the tutelage of Bill O'Brien and Charlie Fisher.

He's still showing glimpses of his old, and perhaps his future, self--take, for instance, his dart to DaeSean Hamilton that would've gone for a 25-yard touchdown pass if Hamilton could have held on--but those have been few and far between and outweighed by the questionable decisions and bad throws and poor sacks taken. As Donnie Collins expertly noted, James Franklin's goal just has to be to get through the regular season. With 15 practices between Michigan State and the freaking bowl game, you guys(!), there will be plenty of time to work with Hackenberg in a calm, controlled setting, and to get him back to where he needs to be moving forward. If Franklin is ever going to be capable of living up to his reputation as an offensive mind, that'll be the time to prove it.

You know what, guys? Screw it. Let's celebrate. We're going bowling.