Penn State kicks off the 2015 season on the road against a familiar in-state foe.
Penn State (0-0) vs. Temple (0-0)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
The Betting Line: Penn State -7
TV: ESPN (play-by-play), (analyst), (sideline)
Weather: Hot and humid, with temperatures hovering around the mid-80s and little chance of clouds or rain.
PENN STATE RECORD: 7-6 (One season)
OVERALL RECORD: 31-21 (Four seasons)
VS. TEMPLE: 1-0
TEMPLE RECORD: 8-16 (Two seasons)
OVERALL RECORD: Same
VS. PENN STATE: 0-1
...NOW THE FUN PART
TEMPLE OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE
The focus for Penn State's defense against Temple should be to get to quarterback P.J. Walker early and often. Walker struggles with consistency at times and will be breaking in a fresh set of receivers. If Penn State can get him rattled early, especially with a four-man rush, it could derail the Owls offense.
Temple returns four of five starters up front, but will likely struggle against Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson in the interior. Zettel and Johnson should wreak havoc against an overmatched line, which could also spring the newly minted starters at defensive end, Carl Nassib and Garrett Sickels to have a major impact. Nyeem Wartman-White will see his first start at middle linebacker, and all signs point to him being a very worthy replacement for the magnificent Mike Hull. Speaking of position changes, Jordan Lucas will get his first start at safety, where he will pair with Marcus Allen to form a very fearsome duo against the run.
Walker has the mobility to do some damage with his legs, and was the Owls second-leading rusher in 2014 with 324 yards. Leading rusher Jahad Thomas also returns, although he only managed 384 yards on the ground. Zaire Williams returns for the Owls after missing the 2014 season, and could build on an impressive freshman season if he recovers to full health.
TEMPLE DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE
This is where things get tricky for Penn State. Temple returns all of its starters from a stout defense, which could cause fits for a still young Nittany Lions offensive line.
Senior outside linebacker Tyler Matakevic is an absolute beast who will make plays all over the field. Matakevic finished his junior season with 117 tackles, 10.5 negative hits to go along with 1.5 sacks and an interception. Senior cornerback Tavon Young is capable of capitalizing on any forced throws by Hackenberg. He not only is a ballhawk, but is also very dangerous once he has the ball in his hands.
Penn State will likely work to establish the run game after struggling so mightily a year ago on the ground. If the line can open up holes for Akeel Lynch and his supporting cast of freshmen, it will be a much-needed confidence boost as the season continues.
Things can go one of three ways on Saturday, which will be very telling for the 2015 season:
-the offense blows away a tough defense, meaning the upcoming season could be very special.
-the offense struggles at times, but does enough to come away with a win and shows the potential to improve as the season progresses.
-the offense is a complete dumpster fire that can't open holes or keep Hackenberg upright, meaning we're in for more of the same as 2014.
The most logical scenario would probably be the second one, but we will have a much better idea on Saturday around 6:45 p.m.
Let the Joey Julius era begin! Julius has quickly become a fan favorite for his big leg and body type that more closely resembles an interior lineman than a kicker. He will have some big shoes to fill after the graduation of Sam Ficken. Expect Julius to put most of his kickoffs out of the end zone, which will be a nice asset for the defense if a touchback is practically guaranteed. While the strength of his leg is certain, we may quickly learn about his accuracy if Temple's stout defense is able to force multiple field goals on Saturday.
Dan Pasquariello returns as the starting punter. The sophomore averaged 37.0 yards per punt in 2014, and will again work to fight off Chris Gulla to retain his job. The return game is in for a complete overhaul- all six returners listed on the depth chart are in their first year of eligibility. Running back Mark Allen could be an especially explosive punt return- Allen is short in stature but has wowed coaches with his explosiveness. Koa Farmer and Saquon Barkley could also do plenty of damage on kick returns throughout the season.
Austin Jones returns as the kicker for Temple after connecting on 13 of 22 field goals in 2014. Temple also returns punter Alex Starzyk, who maintained a 38.4 yard average last season.
PENN STATE-24 TEMPLE-13
Unless the offense can do a complete 180 from the very start of the season, Temple has the tools to keep this game very tight. The offensive line will have it's work cut out for them, and Temple's defense is capable of preventing the Nittany Lions offense from finding a rhythm.
Similar to last season, the game should remain close into the second half. Penn State will get a spark from a fumble recovery for a touchdown by Jordan Lucas while the defense goes into shut down mode. The offense is able to capitalize against a tired Owls defense and a couple long drives seal the victory, as Penn State learns where it needs to improve as it looks to make a big jump from game one to game two.
Is it Saturday yet??