Temple running back Matt Brown is not a big guy (5-foot-5, 165 pounds) but, according to some players on Penn State's defense, did a lot of big talking on the field early in Saturday's game against the Nittany Lions.
Defensive tackle Jordan Hill got things started up front for Penn State on Saturday.
For the most part, Penn State veterans like linebacker Michael Mauti chose not to take Brown up on his verbal challenge.
"You hear a lot of that, and there was plenty of it going around," Mauti said. "We just try to let our play do the talking. And eventually that died down."
The play of a certain few Penn State seniors over the last couple of weeks has said pretty much all the Nittany Lions needed to say. Yes, once again sophomore receiver Allen Robinson was magnificent, freshman tight end Kyle Carter had a big afternoon and youngsters like running back Zach Zwinak and defensive end C.J. Olaniyan were both superb in relief at their respective positions.
But what allowed Penn State to overcome the nine penalties and endless Temple blitzes and a pretty decent Owl running attack, what got the Nittany Lions to a needed if not perfectly executed second win of the season and sustained what modest amount of momentum they have entering Big Ten play, were three guys -- Mauti, defensive tackle Jordan Hill and quarterback Matt McGloin.
On paper, they're the three guys who pop out on the stat sheet -- Mauti led Penn State with nine tackles and Hill was right behind with seven and both had a forced fumble, while McGloin completed 67 percent of his passes and accounted for 331 total yards and all three Lion touchdowns -- but they're also the three guys who set the respective tones for the defense and offense.
Hill, playing in the middle of a line with two young defensive ends (Deion Barnes and Olaniyan) flanking him, once again controlled things at the point of attack, forcing Temple's ball carriers to the outside or straight back. Mauti, as usual, was the defense's emotional governor, flying to the ball, putting pressure on Temple's offense to even hold on to the ball, let alone convert first downs. Their teammates followed their lead.
"They spark our team with the effort with which they play," O'Brien said.
This was not a Temple team that's going to stun a lot of doubters this season, not unless quarterback Chris Coyer can learn to hit open receivers, those receivers can learn to hold on to the football and the Owls' front seven gets a lot stingier against the run. But these were players Al Golden had recruited and supplied with a sense of toughness that most of the Temple teams the Nittany Lions had waxed over the years did not possess.
Like they have for most of the season, Mauti and Hill and the defense did not let the opponent get any early offensive momentum. Like it hasn't always done this season, they kept the pressure on until the game was in hand.
Meanwhile, McGloin took yet another step forward in what is shaping up to be his best season by a mile, keeping a steady hand of an offense that consistently saw big gains wiped out by yellow flags.
"He kept his poise today a lot better than I did," said O'Brien, who got his money's worth during discussions with officials along the sideline throughout the game as he watched his team rack up 100 yards on a season-high nine penalties.
The biggest change in McGloin's game has been just that -- poise. He got great protection on some plays from his offensive line and had to head quickly out of trouble on others but did not let the pressure affect his decision-making. With one or two exceptions, avoided making the bad throws into traffic that have gotten him and his team into trouble in the past.
"Just playing smart," McGloin said. "Coach O'Brien and Coach (Charlie) Fisher are just constantly putting in my head -- take what the defense gives you. Be smart. Don't turn it over. Just manage the game. That's what I've been able to do and I think that's why we've been so consistent as an offense."
Penn State's offense was hardly consistent Saturday -- the Nittany Lions had four scores and five punts -- but neither was it self-destructive; the only turnover was the result of a pass Brandon Moseby-Felder should have caught.
It's hard to say if Penn State is truly ready for the Big Ten season or not but, even with a long injury list that continues to grow, it is most assuredly a lot more ready than it was two weeks ago. Mauti, Hill and McGloin are three big reasons why, and displayed Saturday both the attitude and the production this team will need to keep its first winning streak of the season alive.
And they didn't have to say a word.
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