Penn State is going to a bowl game. I cannot tell you how great it feels to type those eight words. There are plenty of players that were on the roster in 2011 that made the trip to Dallas. But in an honest moment, I am sure they will admit they did not really want to be there. For reasons we all know too well, that team deserved better than ringing in the new year on ESPNU in North Dallas. For guys like Sam Ficken, Mike Hull, and Miles Dieffenbach, they now have the chance to close out their Penn State careers with a holiday trip under much more enjoyable circumstances.
The story of the game was again Bob Shoop's swarming defense, although the cast of characters changed somewhat. Sure, Hull was all over the field (10 tackles), Anthony Zettel (sack) and Austin Johnson (fumble recovery) wreaked havoc on the interior line, but the story was Terry Smith's secondary, and two true freshman cornerbacks. Trevor Williams sat out the game with an undisclosed injury, so Grant Haley and Christian Campbell saw their first significant playing time on defense--and they did not disappoint. Both picked off P.J. Walker passes, with Haley returning his for PSU's second defensive score of the season. Campbell also intercepted Walker, in addition to recording 3 tackles and a pass break up. Senior safety Adrian Amos had an interception, setting up a short field and touchdown late in the 3rd quarter, and fellow senior Jesse Della Valle had a highlight reel pick to cap the day.
For the first time, really all season, the Lions offense was able to not only commit to the run, but eat up chunks of yardage on the ground. Akeel Lynch carried 18 times for 135 yards and a 38 yard touchdown, with Bill Belton contributing 96 more yards on 19 carries and a score. Christian Hackenberg again struggled, despite finding more time to throw than he's had all year. Some credit goes to the Owls secondary, but there were plenty of opportunities for plays to be made that were not.
Three Completely Unrelated, Probably Useless Thoughts
1. Sure it was Temple, but an offensive line with Donovan Smith and Miles Dieffenbach on the left side sure is a sight for sore Nittany Lion eyes. There remains plenty to improve upon, but the return of the two anchors of PSU's offensive line has finally put all the parts back into their more appropriate slots. 47 carries for 273 yards is proof enough. Let's just wrap Donovan and Dieff in bubble wrap the rest of the way.
2. I am pretty sure we have run out of adjectives to describe just how good Bob Shoop's defense has been this year. If you want to get technical, they have given up just 7 points in the last 8 quarters of football. What is even more enjoyable is how they're doing it by attacking. They forced turnovers out of the Temple offense yesterday by pressuring the quarterback, and drawing false starts at the slightest hint of a blitz. And with more athletic players in the recruiting pipeline, that will not change anytime soon.
3. Yes, it was Temple, and yes the defense set up some short fields, but it was nice to finally seem some efficiency out of the offense. I am guilty of forgetting this, but PSU had a touchdown on a very nice opening drive wiped out by a holding call. They were able to put the ball in the end zone off of the Amos pick. The steps have been small, but in my never ending quest to find positives, there have been a few on the offensive side of the ball.