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Penn State holds off Temple to avenge 2015 loss

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Trace McSorley completed 18 of 24 passes for 287 yards with one touchdown and an interception and rushed for another score to lead Penn State to a 34-27 win against Temple on Saturday.

In a fireworks-filled game that finished much closer than it needed to, Penn State avenged last year’s heartbreaking season-opener with a 34-24 win over visiting Temple.

In the box score, the Nittany Lions dominated the Owls across the board. Out-gaining Temple 403 yards to 324 while notching eight more first downs, the game came down to the wire due to costly turnovers that nearly blew the game for the Lions.

Until sophomore savior Saquon Barkley reemerged, that is.

Similar to their first win over Kent State, the Nittany Lions hardly looked perfect. In front of a striped-out crowd of 100,420 fans, the injury factor emerged as the story of the week, especially in the linebacking corp. Opening the game without starting linebackers Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda, James Franklin’s squad soon lost starter Nyeem Wartman-White to an injury in the first half.

Malik Golden and Marcus Allen, the team’s starting safeties, have emerged as leaders of the defensive unit this season and the importance of their roles was magnified in Saturday’s game.

“Next man up, everyones working hard and working the same, so when someone goes down, somebody else steps up,” Golden said of how his team responded to injuries. “I thought we tackled better and got in position better. I thought last week we started out slow and this week we started better.”

Stepping up to the plate in the most notable way was reserve linebacker Brandon Smith. Smith, a senior who had only appeared in three games before this season, filled in for Wartman-White in the ‘mike’ linebacker position, arguably the most important role on the defense as he totaled eight tackles, four of which were solo.

From Allen to Golden to Franklin, Penn State players and coaches couldn’t stop singing praises for ‘Smitty’, as Allen called him.

“Smitty, oh definitely Smitty,” Allen answered about which reserve impressed him most. “The ‘mike’ position is basically the quarterback of the defense and he played his butt off. We didn’t miss a beat… next man up is a big emphasis on our defense and Smitty really took his opportunity to play as hard as he could.”

Along with the Wartman-White injury, the other injury that had Lions faithful shaking in fear was that of superstar running back Barkley, as he hobbled off the field with a knee injury after his first carry. In his absence, the Lions only managed 66 rushing yards on 25 carries in the first three quarters.

But with the Penn State faithful holding their collective breaths after a Temple touchdown from Jahad Thomas cut the deficit to three with 8:10 to play, Barkley triumphantly reinserted himself into the game’s action and made sure the Owls weren’t going to leave Happy Valley with another victory over the Lions.

Fifty seconds after Thomas punched the rock into the end zone, Barkley took a handoff right up the middle and juked one Temple defender out of his socks before sprinting the remaining 55 yards to the end zone to put the Lions up for good.

"The decision to put him back in the game was that he was ready," Franklin said. "He actually could've went in a little bit earlier. Obviously Saquon has the ability, if we can create a little more space, he has the ability to break tackles. He has the ability to make people miss. And he has the ability, the speed to finish runs.”

Barkley managed only nine carries on the day because of the injury, but still totaled 75 yards and the score. Despite his absence, the offense still found success as quarterback Trace McSorley continues to look more and more comfortable in his new starting spot. McSorley finished the game with 287 yards and a touchdown on 24 attempts, although he did throw an interception. Wide receiver Chris Godwin was on the receiving end of 117 of those yards while 52 of them came on a leaping catch from tight end Mike Gesicki, a grab that will most definitely be featured on highlight reels.

Special teams has emerged as arguably the team’s strongest unit in recent weeks thanks to freshman punter Blake Gilikin, kicker Tyler Davis and numerous kick returners. Two of Gilikin’s three punts squeezed the Owls within their own 20 while Davis drilled both of his field goals to remain perfect in his career.

John Reid, who sealed the victory for Penn State with his fourth quarter interception, has emerged as the team’s go-to punt returner while Brandon Polk and Miles Sanders both showcased 30-plus yard kick returns.

Ironically, however, it was a special teams blunder that let Temple back into the game in the first place. With Reid back to return a fourth quarter punt, the ball inadvertently bounced off Amani Oruwariye’s leg and allowed Temple to pounce on the ball for the recovery, which led Jahad’s touchdown.

However Barkley’s  ensuing highlight touchdown not only saved the game for Penn State, but the celebration as well.
Penn State Saquon Barkley
That dancing and excitement, which started before the game for Penn State, is unique to this year’s squad, according to Allen.

“This team here, this 2016 team is a completely different team,” he said. “We’re way more energetic, we’re competitive, we’re going to play hard nosed football and we’re going to play disciples football as well. As you can see, our coaches are going to get pumped just as much as the players, it’s fun out there.”

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