Penn State turns Temple turnovers into bowl eligibility
State College, Pa. — Praise for Penn State's offensive line this year has been rare, but coach James Franklin jumped at the opportunity on Saturday.
The Nittany Lions rushed for a season-high 254 yards and took advantage of five Temple turnovers to defeat the Owls, 30-13, and become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011.
Penn State was ineligible for postseason play for four years as a result of NCAA sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The NCAA lifted those sanctions Sept. 8.
Akeel Lynch ran for 130 yards on 18 carries and scored on a 38-yard touchdown run. Bill Belton added 92 yards on 19 carries for the Lions (6-4).
"The difference was up front all game long and we haven't been able to say that too often this year," Franklin said. "We started out doing what we wanted to do; we were dominant at the line of scrimmage."
The return of left tackle Donovan Smith and guard Miles Dieffenbach from injuries created multiple opportunities for Lynch and Belton, who averaged 7.2 and 4.8 yards per carry, respectively.
A Belton fumble in the first half, the first by a Penn State running back this season, stunted the Lions' offense early, but they remained committed to the run.
"We went in (at halftime) and stuck to our guns," Franklin said. "I said we have to stop the turnovers and penalties, we stuck to our game plan and I was pleased."
Penn State will get another 15 practices and a game if selected for a bowl.
"We are a family," said linebacker Mike Hull, who had a team-high 10 tackles to up his season total to 111.
"Just having another opportunity and getting to stay together just means the world to us, especially the older guys."
Penn State's defense was typically solid. The nation's top-ranked rushing defense held Temple to 61 yards and pressured Owls quarterback P.J. Walker into throwing four interceptions. He was 17-of-38 for 187 yards. Temple was just 3-of-16 on third-down plays.
Lynch scored the game's first touchdown. He eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the third time in his career.
When he skirted around left end, he saw only the end zone. "I literally thought, 'I'm scoring this play,' so I burst through them," he said.
Two of Penn State's interceptions came from freshmen Christian Campbell and Grant Haley, who returned his 30 yards for a score to give Penn State a 27-13 lead. Four freshmen played in the secondary during the game.
Tied 6-6 late in the third quarter, Penn State capitalized on turnovers on four straight Temple possessions late in the third and early in the fourth to pull away.
"Unfortunately, that's where we are right now," said Temple coach Matt Rhule, a 1997 Penn State graduate and former player.
"We couldn't make them earn it. We kind of just threw the ball to them. They made the plays we didn't make. Credit to them."
Temple's lone score was a 75-yard pass play to Jalen Fitzpatrick that brought the Owls to within a touchdown before they got sloppy with the ball.
Adrian Amos and Jesse DellaValle also had interceptions and Austin Johnson recovered a Walker fumble.
Sam Ficken kicked three field goals to become one of just three kickers in Penn State history to have at least 50 career field goals. He also tied a season record for field goals with 22.
Penn State wasn't without its own sloppiness as Temple set itself up three times with short-field opportunities with a fumble and two interceptions.
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg was just 12-of-26 for 112 yards and a pair of picks. He was sacked twice, about half the number he's typically faced each game this season.
"I thought the offensive line played great today," Hackenberg said.