PSU dumps Temple, becomes bowl eligible
UNIVERSITY PARK — It took being aided by turnovers, but Penn State’s scoring slump ended during a frenetic second-half stretch Saturday.
The result was a win — and bowl eligibility.
Buoyed by 24 points during an 11-minute span, Penn State beat Temple, 30-13, and is in line to play in a postseason game for the first time since the NCAA levied historic sanctions on the program 28 months ago.
“We had 49 (players who stuck with) this program and this university when the community and football program needed them the most,” coach James Franklin said. “The fact that we are going to be able to send them out the right way and be able to continue our season and to keep our family together for a month or so after the regular season ends is special.”
The 49 Franklin cited include 39 players remaining from the roster in summer 2012 when the NCAA stripped four years of bowls and allowed current players to transfer. The other 10 were verbally committed recruits at that time.
“This is the reason we stayed,” said guard Miles Dieffenbach, one of 11 seniors on the roster. “We knew we’d bring this university and this team back. I couldn’t be happier to capitalize on it.
“This is just … a great moment for Penn State.”
Spurred by the return of Dieffenbach — he played just 10 snaps in his season debut last week — from an offseason torn ACL and of left tackle Donovan Smith — he missed the previous two games — the Lions offense played arguably its most dynamic half of the season.
It was helped, as has been the case all season, by Penn State’s defense.
After slogging through a first half in which it managed just two Sam Ficken field goals, the Lions produced touchdowns 54 seconds apart midway through the third quarter.
Akeel Lynch ran 38 yards for a touchdown with 6:13 remaining in the quarter. Two plays from scrimmage later, Adrian Amos intercepted P.J. Walker and returned it to the Temple 8-yard line. Bill Belton then scored to give Penn State a 20-6 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, Grant Haley returned an interception 30 yards for another score.
Penn State (6-4) matched a season high by forcing five turnovers — all during the second half, breaking open what had been another tight, low-scoring game.
“It was a really good football game in the first half and early third quarter,” Temple coach and former Penn State linebacker Matt Rhule said. “Then we just gave it away.”
The Lions had three turnovers, including two more interceptions by Christian Hackenberg. The struggling sophomore had another poor outing: 12 for 26 for 112 yards and, for the second straight game, no touchdown passes.
But he was aided by the ball-hawking defense as well as by signs of life from a running game that had been nonexistent most of the season. Penn State averaged 5.5 yards per carry and finished with a season-high 255 yards rushing.
Lynch had 130 yards and Belton 92.
“We gave the offense short fields today,” Amos said. “And then they executed with those short fields.”
Penn State’s defense allowed a touchdown drive that started in its opponent’s territory for the first time in 17 quarters when the Owls responded after Belton’s 8-yard TD. Walker hit Jalen Fitzpatrick for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the ensuing possession.
But Temple (5-5) turned over the ball in its own territory on each of its next three drives, resulting in 10 Penn State points.
Although he had a fourth-quarter attempt blocked, Ficken made field goals of 29, 50 and 21 yards during a game in which he moved into second place on the Penn State career field goals list.
Penn State allowed just eight first downs. Temple finished with 248 total yards, 61 rushing.
The postgame locker room was jubilant.
“We had music blasting. … The coaches were going nuts,” linebacker Mike Hull said. “It was a great atmosphere to be a part of, and it’s very special to be able to go back to a bowl game after everything that’s happened.”