Temple hoping to hang with Penn State

Nothing in their recent history gives you any faith that Temple can hang with Penn State.

Maybe this year will finally be different.

Temple (3-0) goes into the game Saturday in Happy Valley following a 30-16 win over Connecticut, its first over a team from an automatic qualifying conference as a member of the MAC. Penn State has struggled with a true freshman at quarterback.

Surely the Owls are better and have more experience than they have since the two schools began playing again in 2006.

“The gap is huge, that’s the problem,” Temple coach Al Golden says.

Yes, the gap is huge. Temple has lost the last four games to Penn State 154-9. Last season, the Owls lost 31-6, but it was the closest they had played the Lions. In 2006 and 2007, Temple got shut out. Golden, however, ran off a litany of stats that prove how daunting the task will be -- his team has been outgained by 1,073 yards in the four games.

“The biggest thing is to hang in there, hang in the game with them and try to keep it close because they’re so powerful, they’re so deep and they’ve got the crowd with them,” Golden says.

Golden would never reveal whether this game has special meaning to him. He played under coach Joe Paterno, and his name has already surfaced as a potential replacement whenever Paterno decides to step down.

Perhaps some Nittany Lions fans will see this as a mini-tryout for Golden, who has completely resurrected the Temple program. The start to this season proves 2009 was no fluke. Temple is 3-0 for the first time since 1979.

The win over Connecticut was most certainly a confidence booster after lackluster performances in their first two games, but Golden is not dwelling on the win, and he has told his players to move on as well.

“It was a great win. It motivates the team to know that we are big-time competitors, but we have to move on to the next game,” Temple running back Bernard Pierce said. “We needed that win to get everybody’s morale up, but when the game’s all over and done with we still have to go to practice and work hard and perform hard.”

If anybody needed a big game going into Penn State week it was Pierce, who led the MAC last season with 1,361 yards. He and Matt Brown shared time in the first two games, but Pierce got going against Connecticut with 169 yards rushing -- his first 100-yard game of the season.

Last season against Penn State, Pierce only had seven carries for 24 yards in his second career game and admitted to being a little intimidated.

“It was a crazy environment, ridiculously loud,” he said. “I was very nervous. But now that I know what it’s going to be like, I’ll be settled down.”

For his part, Golden says he is trying to keep his team focused on this season. He sees no sense in bringing up past futility to use as motivation. Temple has not beaten Penn State since 1941.

Still, Golden sees benefits to the series even though it has been so lopsided.

“One of the things when we got here, there were a lot of irrelevant games,” Golden said. “Now when we play Army or we play Navy, there’s a buzz. When we play UConn, there’s a buzz and when we play this team -- even though we haven’t won since World War II -- there’s a buzz. We’re appreciative and grateful to Penn State for wanting to play this series and supporting football here.”

The series will continue with five games in the next six years. We’ll have to see if Temple can close the gap, even a little.