Penn State wants to keep improving

Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien has seen his team improve from week to week, and he wants that to continue. GENE J. PUSKAR / AP
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien has seen his team improve from week to week, and he wants that to continue. GENE J. PUSKAR / AP
Posted: September 23, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Bill O'Brien and his assistants were thrilled to get their first win last week as a Penn State coaching staff, but that doesn't mean they were satisfied.

For his part, O'Brien wants to be more efficient in relaying plays from the sideline to quarterback Matt McGloin. He knows the Nittany Lions need to run the football better. He'd like his kicker to be more accurate.

However, the overriding desire for O'Brien is that the Lions (1-2) show improvement, and they've done that from Week 1 to Week 2 and from Week 2 to Week 3. He hopes they continue the trend Saturday at Beaver Stadium against intrastate rival Temple (1-1) but knows it won't be easy.

Coming off a bye week, the Owls are expected to come in with some fire and the desire to break a winless streak against Penn State that dates to 1941.

When it was suggested to him that this game is Temple's Super Bowl, O'Brien pointed out it is just as important to Penn State, especially because the Nittany Lions have no postseason reward because of NCAA sanctions.

"We only have 12 games this year, so every game for us is a very vital football game," he said. "We're playing in front of 100,000 people here at Penn State. I would assume our players will come out with a lot of intensity. We've only got two more months to play.

"So I'm glad it's their Super Bowl, but this is a big game for us, like every single game this year. On November whatever, our season is over. So this is a big game."

The Lions must match the intensity and focus on their execution. They have done some things very well this season and other things not so well.

They must continue to maintain a sizable advantage in the turnover battle. In the last two weeks, Penn State has not turned the ball over at all while forcing eight - four in each contest.

On the flip side, however, has been the difficulty in converting the turnovers to points. The Nittany Lions have scored just three times - one field goal and two touchdowns - off the eight turnovers, and one of those TDs was linebacker Mike Hull's 74-yard return of a fumble last week against Navy.

Part of the problem has been the inconsistency of sophomore kicker Sam Ficken, who has made just one of his five field-goal attempts and has missed two extra points. With Saturday's game followed by the start of the Big Ten schedule, Ficken will have to pick it up, and O'Brien said his offense will have to do so as well.

"I'd rather score touchdowns than kick field goals, to be honest with you," the coach said, "and that's what I'm going to try to do."

Under the leadership of McGloin, the Penn State offense has not coughed up the ball in the last two games. For the season, the fifth-year senior has thrown for eight touchdowns - matching his total for the entire 2011 season - with one interception.

After two years of being part of a system with no clear-cut No. 1 quarterback, McGloin is enjoying the difference this season.

"I don't feel I necessarily have to go out there and try to make big plays to stay in the football game," McGloin said. "I can just relax, play my game, and take the coaching. I don't consider myself playing safe or anything like that. It's just doing a good job of making the right reads and delivering the ball."

Even with the injuries to their first two tailbacks, Bill Belton and Derek Day, the Nittany Lions need to run the football better to help McGloin. It seemed to come along last week behind a pair of big backs, 245-pound Curtis Dukes and 236-pound Michael Zordich, but O'Brien knows the Lions can do more.

"We're definitely looking for improvement in the running game," he said. "The offensive line has done a really good job of run blocking for the most part. It's probably more me having to call more runs and get them into the game a little bit more."

On defense, the Nittany Lions did a better job of stopping Navy on third down but must be prepared to deal with dual-threat Temple quarterback Chris Coyer, especially if the Owls decide to open up their passing game after throwing it only 29 times the first two weeks.


Temple at Penn State

Saturday at 3:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, Pa.

Records: Penn State 1-2; Temple 1-1.

TV/Radio: 6ABC; WIP-AM (610), WNTP-AM (990), WNPV-AM (1440).

Coaches: Penn State, Bill O'Brien (first season, 1-2); Temple, Steve Addazio (second season, 10-5).

Series: Penn State leads, 37-3-1, counting the seven wins that were vacated last July by NCAA sanctions. The Nittany Lions won, 14-10, last year at Lincoln Financial Field. The Owls' last win came in 1941.

Betting line: Penn State by 7.

Four things to watch

The Penn State rushing attack improved last week behind big tailbacks Michael Zordich (a converted fullback) and Curtis Dukes, but still has not posted a touchdown yet this season. O'Brien said he intends to go to the run more.

With opposing defenses needing to do more to stop sophomore Allen Robinson, who has 24 catches in three games, the Nittany Lions need a No. 2 receiver to step forward.

Will Temple continue to give up big plays? The Owls allowed 11 plays of 21 yards or more against Villanova and Maryland. We will find out if they corrected that weakness during the bye week.

Will the Owls have more offensive balance? Temple has run the ball 74.7 percent of the time through two games. But the Owls have several four-receiver sets they have yet to use.

Four things you might not know

Penn State's Matt McGloin leads all Big Ten quarterbacks with eight touchdown passes - matching his total for all of last season - and ranks fourth in the conference in total offense, gaining 234.7 yards per game.

Sam Ficken tried the first field goal of his career for the Nittany Lions last year against Temple, but his 49-yard attempt at the end of the first half was blocked. Ficken finished the season 1 for 2.

Temple running backs Montel Harris and Matt Brown are ranked among the nation's active leaders in career 100-yard games. Harris, a Boston College transfer, is tops on the list with 22 games. Brown is tied for 10th with 10.

Temple defensive backs Anthony Robey and Hasson Reddick both have birthdays on Saturday. Robey is 21 years old and Reddick is 18.

- Joe Juliano and Keith Pompey


Contact Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @joejulesinq. Read his blog, "Lion Eyes," at www.philly.com/lioneyes

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