Temple coach returns home to face Penn State
Nov. 13, 2014
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Temple coach Matt Rhule will be working from home on Saturday even though his team is playing on the road.
The second-year coach graduated from Penn State in 1997 after attending State College Area High School.
The Owls (5-4, 3-3 American Athletic Conference) have similarities to Penn State (5-4, 2-4 Big Ten) as they play in Rhule's homecoming game.
Each team has the same record and needs one more victory to become eligible for a bowl game. Both offenses have struggled with inconsistency. The teams both rely on sturdy defense to keep games within reach.
And each is battling through some key injuries.
"It has to be cool for Coach Rhule to come back here, being a Penn State grad and being part of this community," Penn State coach James Franklin said.
Rhule said he doesn't want the sentiment to trickle down to his players.
"They have to find a way to block the runs and get open against their coverages and pass protect and be in the right gaps," Rhule said. "If their thoughts are on anything else other than blocking, tackling, catching and running, then they won't have a chance."
Rhule, 39, is one of nine FBS head coaches under age 40. It's his eighth year at Temple but only the second in charge of the program.
"What we're trying to get done has been so hard and so time-consuming and relentless that I'm just trying to live day by day through this year," Rhule said.
Rhule said he's happy with where the team is headed.
"What we're trying to establish, I think we're way ahead of schedule," he said. "We were 2-10 a year ago and 4-8 before that."
Temple defeated No. 23 East Carolina on Nov. 1 but lost to Memphis six days later on a field goal as time expired.
Like Penn State, the Owls battle inconsistency on offense. But they lead the nation in blocked punts (3) and fumble recoveries (17). They have nine touchdowns combined on defense and special teams.
"I've never heard of 17 fumble recoveries," said Franklin.
Here are things to watch in Saturday's nonconference game, the 43rd in a series that Penn State leads 38-3-1:
DUAL-THREAT QUARTERBACK: Temple's P.J. Walker has thrown for nearly 1,700 yards. But he can run, just like quarterbacks Penn State has played against from Ohio State, Indiana and Central Florida. "It's just his athleticism," Franklin said. "It's one more thing you have to factor in; it's difficult to make people one-dimensional."
RHULE KNOWS DEFENSE: Rhule has seen good Penn State defenses before. He sees one now. The Lions are ranked first nationally in rushing defense and third in total defense. "They blitz, they play multiple coverages, you never really know what's coming," Rhule said. "Wherever you look, they're really good at what they do and they have tremendous personnel."
CONTRASTING BOWL-GAME THOUGHTS: "I'd really like to get to be bowl eligible and give these kids a chance to go do that," Rhule said. "I'd love to have it happen as soon as possible."
And Franklin? "If at the end of the year somebody calls and tells us we have the opportunity to keep playing and that we're going to go somewhere, we'll be really excited about it," he said.
INJURY UPDATE: If Penn State offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach (knee) and tackle Donovan Smith (concussion) play, it will mark the first time this season Penn State's only two offensive line veterans will be on the field together. . Rhule said receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick will be a game-time decision after suffering an ankle injury against Memphis.
RAW NUMBERS: Penn State has held seven of its nine opponents to 10 points below their average entering the game and has limited six teams to 150 yards below their average. . Penn State has scored just 11 touchdowns in 31 trips within the red zone. . The Nittany Lions have scored seven touchdowns in six Big Ten games. . Quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been sacked 35 times.