UNIVERSITY PARK - Special teams aside, Penn State played about as bad of a game as it could play on both sides of the ball in the first half Saturday and trudged into the locker room losing to Temple.
"Not acceptable," senior defensive tackle Devon Still said.
Never mind that it was surely a bigger game for the Owls than it was for the Nittany Lions.
And never mind that Al Golden has done a terrific job coaching up his program to the point where this is the most competitive Temple team since the days when Wayne Hardin's club used to bother the Nittany Lions in the mid-1970s.
The difference in tradition and facilities is so vast (the Owls, who share a stadium with the Philadelphia Eagles, average less than 24,000 fans per game, and they're drawing well this year) that Penn State couldn't believe it was behind.
But it was, and it deserved to be.
"Nothing against them," linebacker Michael Mauti said of the 13-9 deficit that eventually turned into a 22-13 PSU win, "but we came in at halftime and said, 'we shouldn't be losing.'''
Consequently, the defense turned up the intensity several notches and overcame an offense that finally scored a touchdown on its eighth trip inside the Temple 30 and fifth trip to or inside the Owls' 15.
"It was a real struggle in the first half," Still said. "We'd like to see touchdowns. When we see field goals, it puts more pressure on the defense."
Still wasn't complaining. He was stating facts, and the fact is with a freshman quarterback, no matter how much potential Rob Bolden may have, Penn State's defense is going to have to rise up all year like it did in the second half Saturday.
From the top down, it knows it.
"We had to hustle in the second half and make some plays, especially on defense," Joe Paterno said.
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was upset that his unit "wasn't quite ready to go back in there" on the "sudden change" after Evan Royster's fumble on the Lions' second possession like it was following an offensive turnover last week against Kent State.
"We have to talk about it," he said.
While the offense failed in the red zone, the defense did, too, allowing Temple to score a pair of first-quarter touchdowns in alarmingly easy fashion once the Owls threatened.
Bradley tweaked the alignment at halftime, moved the linebackers closer and turned them loose. In particular, Mauti and Nate Stupar stood out as the two combined for 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks and Stupar's game-changing interception.
"We made some adjustments at halftime," Bradley said. "The third quarter was lights out."
Earlier this season, JoePa criticized the play of his linebackers who were feeling their way in replacing Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman. Stupar and Mauti made significant strides Saturday.
"We needed to play with a little swag[ger] out there and fly around," Mauti said. "The offense was struggling a little bit, and they needed us to be there."
In addition to the emergence of Mauti and Stupar, safety Nick Sukay, with two interceptions, played his best game, and redshirt freshman Pete Massaro impressed in his second straight start in place of Eric Latimore.
"Coach [Larry] Johnson is keeping those guys on his toes," Bradley said. "Whoever practices the best will play."
Since his strong debut against Youngstown State, Bolden has played more sporadically in the last three weeks and although Royster looked more Saturday like he did in 2008 and '09, you get the feeling that whatever success the Lions will have from here must start with their defense.
"Going into the Big Ten," Mauti said, "this was definitely a confidence booster for us."
With Iowa up next, on the road, the Nittany Lions will need all the confidence they can get. And then some.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.