30th Time The Charm?

Joe Paterno is in his 62nd season as a member of the Penn State coaching staff – including the last 46 as head coach – and in his time has competed against 29 Temple football teams. He believes No. 30, which he will see in a highly anticipated nationally-televised contest Saturday, is the best Owls squad he has encountered in his tenure.

Joe Paterno is in his 62nd season as a member of the Penn State coaching staff – including the last 46 as head coach – and in his time has competed against 29 Temple football teams.

He believes No. 30, which he will see in a highly anticipated nationally-televised contest Saturday, is the best Owls squad he has encountered in his tenure.

"This is the best Temple team I've ever seen, and we've been playing them 60 years or better," said Paterno. "They're better balanced, extremely well organized, more physical than any Temple team I've seen.

"Usually, they have four or five big-time players and others you can pick on a little bit, but not this one. They know what they're doing, they play with a lot of enthusiasm and confidence. They're well-coached, they're solid right across the board. We've got our hands full."

Considering the Owls tied the Nittany Lions in Paterno's first season as an assistant – in 1950 – and have lost the last 28 in the series, even having the best Temple team of JoePa's coaching tenure doesn't come with any guarantees.

The Owls will enter the home game as underdogs, but after a nine-point loss in Happy Valley last year – in which they led in the third quarter – they aren't lacking for confidence.

"We're hungrier, we know what we did last year wasn't enough," said Temple linebacker Tahir Whitehead. "We're going to have a little bit of an edge."

Temple has opened the season with a pair of dominating performances against overmatched Villanova and Akron, while the 1-1 Nittany Lions are coming off a disappointing 27-11 home loss to No. 2 Alabama.

"Our kids are not intimidated by Penn State, but they respect them," said Temple head coach Steve Addazio. "That's a good football team right there. It's a healthy respect, and it should be. We're playing Penn State, but in the same breath, we lined up and played them last year. They're coming to our place, and we'll have the same approach. It's a healthy respect, but we're going to take our shots."

On defense, Temple will try to frustrate Nittany Lion quarterbacks Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin, who combined to complete just 12-of-29 passes against the Crimson Tide. Bolden, a sophomore, made some key plays down the stretch against the Owls a year ago.

"Bolden is very athletic and throws on the move very well, and they like to take shots down the field," said Addazio. ‘They weren't able to find a rhythm against Alabama, that's all that was. Their talent level is very good."

The Owls have put up 83 points the first two weeks but know they have their hands full with a strong Nittany Lion defense sparked by an outstanding front.

"Their defensive tackles are pretty good, (Devon Still) is probably going to be a first-round pick, he's as good as they come," said Owls quarterback Mike Gerardi. "You know you have to get the ball out of your hands. They're going to get pressure on you only rushing three or four. You have to go through your progressions, execute and take what they give."

Because they didn't have to show much in their first two wins, the Owls and Addazio can come up with a game plan the Nittany Lions haven't seen. Gerardi should start, but Addazio didn't dismiss playing a number of different quarterbacks – Chester Stewart, Chris Coyer or Clinton Granger – on the roster.

"We're going to attack this game and see where it goes," said Addazio. "You got a two-iron, a six-iron, a three-wood, a driver. We're going to bring all our clubs, and we're not going to leave any clubs in the bag. They all bring a little something to the table, and we're going to make sure we use them all based on the situation and what dictates it."

A key to keeping the Nittany Lion rush off Gerardi or whoever is under center will be establishing Bernard Pierce, who has carried for 297 yards and six touchdowns in his first two games. Pierce scored twice against Penn State last year before leaving with ankle injury.

"He's tough and has great acceleration and good eyes, he anticipates things," said Paterno. "As soon as he has an opportunity and he's ready to break through a hole or go outside, he has enough speed to do it. He's a tough kid, not the fastest guy in the world but he sure uses his eyes and courage to his advantage. He's been big-time for two years now."

The Owls are looking forward to facing Penn State with a healthy Pierce in the backfield, Gerardi running the show under center and the Nittany Lions having to come to Philadelphia to play the Owls at Lincoln Financial Field.

They're hoping Paterno's assessment is correct, and the 30th time will be the charm.

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