But on a crucial third down in Temple territory during Saturday's 22-13 victory at Beaver Stadium, the Penn State defense atoned for its lack of production with a game-changing turnover. Junior linebacker Nathan Stupar intercepted Owls' quarterback Chester Stewart, setting up Penn State's go-ahead field goal and giving it a lead it would not relinquish.
Although a member of the secondary did not make the interception, junior free safety Nick Sukay knew the play had changed the course of the game.
Turnovers are obviously a big thing, Sukay said. When the offense scores a touchdown we feel that on defense, we get that emotional edge. I'm sure it's the same way for the offense when we get a turnover. It gives them a little more fire so I think it works both ways.
Sukay was exactly right as two series later the Nittany Lion offense recorded a 12-play, 96-yard touchdown drive that sealed the victory for Penn State.
Furthermore, on the ensuing Temple possession, Sukay intercepted his second pass of the day, giving the Nittany Lions a season-high three picks.
We know we needed more turnovers, so we've been emphasizing that in practice and even during the game," Sukay said. "We were emphasizing every time we went out that we had to make a big play."
Junior strong safety Drew Astorino knows the task will be far more difficult this Saturday in the Big Ten season-opener at Iowa. The Hawkeyes feature veteran quarterback Ricky Stanzi and a fleet of tall receivers
I know they're very big, Astorino said. No. 7 Marvin McNutt (6-foo-4) is a big guy. A lot of the times they max protect and only send a couple guys out but they still run really long, tough routes which are hard for us to cover.
Astorino, who has been battling a shoulder injury all season, lost his starting job to junior Andrew Dailey last week. Despite the demotion, Astorino returned to the game in a full-time roll and tied Sukay with a secondary-leading six tackles.
Astorino did not view his benching as an insult, but rather a reminder of how he needs to perform.
It was kind of a wake-up call that I needed to step up my game a little bit, Astorino said. I wasn't having very good practices and Dailey was playing well. I wasn't playing up to how I should be playing.
Although it is unclear who will start at strong safety Saturday night in Iowa City, Astorino and the secondary understand what it will take to be successful against Stanzi.
He stands in the pocket and makes good throws. We cannot give him a lot of time because he can pick apart a secondary, Astorino said. If we mix up and disguise our coverages, and make breaks on the ball, then we can make a lot of plays. We have to force the opportunities and then make the plays.
Sukay hopes last Saturday's turnover-sparked victory will propel the Nittany Lion defense to an ever better performance against Iowa.
Sometimes it takes a big game for a certain side of the ball to gel, Sukay said. We hope we can carry that second half vs. Temple into the Big Ten season. We need to keep causing turnovers and play with that fire and passion we had in the second half.