Line Shines as PSU Locks Down Bowl Bid

The Nittany Lions’ offensive front led the way as Penn State ground out a win over Temple.

Penn State beat Temple on Saturday. No surprise there.

The Lions did so in large part by running the ball. Big surprise there.

In the course of a 30-13 victory they churned out a season-high 254 yards on 47 attempts. Akeel Lynch had 130 on 18 attempts, Bill Belton 92 on 19. Both scored touchdowns.

And if the Lions' linemen attended to the small details -- if they stuck to their knitting, as the saying goes -- let the record show that they have been forever cognizant of the big picture.

Just ask Angelo Mangiro. Ask the center/guard/tackle how it feels to be bowl-eligible, especially in contrast to how he felt on July 23, 2012, when the NCAA handed down its sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

“That's a day,” he said, “I will never forget.”

Mangiro, a senior, remembered that he and many of his teammates gathered in the players' lounge of the Lasch Building to listen to the televised announcement.

“It was a tough deal for us,” he said, his voice catching. “It was. It was a tough deal for us, and I couldn't be happier for our guys that stayed and stayed committed.”

There was a glimmer of hope earlier this season, when college sports' governing body eased the bowl ban, announcing that the Lions could take part in the postseason this year, were they to win at least six games.

“Nothing's guaranteed (by that),” Mangiro said. “Nothing was given to us. We had to go out and get it.”

They took the long route, winning their first four, losing their next four and now winning two straight. In improving to 38-0-1 against Temple since 1941 -- and 39-3-1 overall -- the Lions (6-4) established season highs for points, turnovers forced (five) and rushing yards.

They came in averaging just 86.6 overland yards, 122nd among the nation's 125 major college teams. But Lynch did what he did, and Belton did what he did. That, coupled with yet another glittering defensive performance, allowed PSU to survive another shaky outing by quarterback Christian Hackenberg (12-for-26, 112 yards, two interceptions). He now has a staggering 17 turnovers this season -- 14 picks and three lost fumbles.

The running game benefited greatly from the return of left tackle Donovan Smith, who had missed the two previous games with what was believed to be a concussion, and the extended work of left guard Miles Dieffenbach (No. 65 above), who because of a knee injury had not played this season until his 10-snap cameo last week at Indiana.

And it helped that Mangiro hop-scotched all over the forward wall. He started at left guard, and later saw time at center and right guard as well. He has in fact made seven starts at center this season, and two others at right tackle.

What makes this particularly interesting is that Mangiro is dyslexic, meaning the Lions are asking a guy who struggles to keep things straight to do just that, no matter where he's positioned.

“Coach (Herb) Hand usually tells me (where to line up), and I just roll with it,” he said, referring to the offensive line coach. “I immediately start running through plays (at) that position and get myself ready that way.”

He said it “kind of threw (him) off a little bit” when starting right guard Brian Gaia was injured and he had to switch at a moment's notice.

“Besides that,” Mangiro said, “I have enough time to get myself prepared, and I take reps all week at practice, so it usually doesn't bother me.”

Dieffenbach, a starter in '12 and '13, had vowed to return after tearing the ACL in his left knee during spring practice, and finally did so against the Hoosiers. Coach James Franklin said in the days leading up to Saturday's game that the plan was for Dieffenbach to alternate series, and while he didn't start, he was out there the second time the Lions had the ball, and most of the time after that.

The team's medical staff had a say in how much the senior guard would be used, according to Franklin. So too did Dieffenbach -- he had to be comfortable, the coach said, with his “footwork, technique and his fundamentals” -- as well as Hand.

“Once the flow of the game started going,” Dieffenbach said, “he kind of just kept me in there and kept going.”

Dieffenbach was obviously effective. Both touchdown runs, Lynch's 38-yarder and Belton's eight-yarder, came in the third quarter, and both were behind Dieffenbach and Smith.

Dieffenbach also seemed to be enjoying himself. After Belton made it 20-6 with his TD, the lineman sprinted to the end zone in search of his classmate, only to discover that Belton had headed for the bench.

“Then,” Dieffenbach said, “I tripped over somebody.”

He fell to the ground, did what might be described as a barrel roll -- nimbly, or as nimbly as his 303 pounds allowed -- then sprang to his feet and made his way toward the sideline, chest-bumping Hand as he went.

“Today was a special day,” Dieffenbach said. “It's been a long five years here -- a lot of ups and downs. … Long seven months, too. It's been a long seven months to wait to get back out there with my teammates.”

The wait is over now. For him, and everybody else.

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