PHILADELPHIA - Crisis averted. For now at least.
Penn State did not lose to Temple for the first time in 70 years, despite looking like it would until the waning minutes Saturday.
"Absolutely we dodged a bullet," PSU running back Silas Redd said after an alarmingly close 14-10 comeback victory.
As Nittany Nation fans anxiously watched at Lincoln Financial Field and on TV wondering how their beloved program's offense could look so bad against Temple of all teams, they also probably were doing a lot of wishful thinking.
About the defense.
Thoughts of "please force a turnover or make a big play to save us from this embarrassment" had to be going through fans' minds.
The Associated Press photo
Penn State fullback Michael Zordich scores the winning touchdown, getting past Temple’s Quinten White (32) and Ahkeem Smith in Philadelphia on Saturday.
Those hopes were answered by linebacker Michael Mauti.
"We can't hang our heads and say, 'Man, [the offense needs] to pick it up,'" Mauti said of his defensive counterparts. "We need to just worry about us. All we can do is get the ball back for the offense."
Mauti did that himself with a huge interception early in the fourth quarter, setting up PSU's offense with great field position at the Temple 44.
Temple 7, Penn State 0: The Owls put together an impressive 82-yard drive and took advantage of two big PSU penalties for a quick lead. Quarterback Mike Gerardi made two big plays early, scrambling for a 10-yard pass play on the second play and then pump faking and hitting Deon Miller on a gorgeous 33-yard stop-and-go route to the PSU 33. The Owls went to the end zone on the next play and got a pass interference call on Chaz Powell. Michael Mauti had a face mask penalty to set up first-and-goal at the 7, and Bernard Pierce scored from 2 yards out two plays later with 6:54 left in the quarter. The Lions drove deep into Temple territory on the ensuing drive, but Evan Lewis missed a 45-yard field goal wide left.
Penn State 7, Temple 7: Matt McGloin came in for his first series at quarterback and led the Lions to a TD, although he didn't do much on the drive. Penn State took over at midfield, and McGloin completed a 7-yard pass to Justin Brown to convert a third-and-5 at the 45. Temple committed a 15-yard face mask penalty that moved PSU to the 18. Two plays later, Silas Redd found a big hole up the middle, scooted to the right and scored from 18 yards out with 4:57 left in the half.
Temple 10, Penn State 7: The Owls took a lead into the locker room at halftime for the second year in a row against PSU. Backup quarterback Chester Stewart came in and led a drive that produced a 40-yard field goal by Brandon McManus with 37 seconds to go in the half. The big play was a 16-yard pass from Stewart to Joe Jones that converted a third-and 7 and moved the Owls to the PSU 43. Matt Brown broke loose for 15 yards on the next drive to get Temple close to field goal range. Penn State got a 40-yard pass from McGloin to Derek Moye to the Temple 32 with six seconds left in the half, but Sam Ficken had a 49-yard field goal try blocked.
Penn State 14, Temple 10: The Lions' offense struggled all day, but the defense helped save the team as linebacker Michael Mauti intercepted a Mike Gerardi pass at the Temple 44 with 8:46 to play. It was Bolden's turn to lead the offense on a series, and PSU drove 44 yards for a go-ahead TD. Bolden hit Devon Smith for 10 yards on third-and-8 at the 42 to keep the drive alive. He later found Derek Moye for 11 yards to convert a fourth-and-2 at the 23. The Lions faced fourth-and-1 at the 3, and the coaches initially wanted to try a field goal from Evan Lewis, who had missed a 36-yard try (hit right upright) earlier in the quarter that would have tied it. The coaches reconsidered and decided to go for it, and Brandon Beachum got 2 yards for the first down. Mike Zordich scored from the 1 on the next play for the winning score with 2:42 to go.
Rob Bolden, who once again split time with Matt McGloin at quarterback, came on the field and directed the biggest drive of his young career to get the Lions into the end zone and lift them to victory in what essentially was a must-win game.
Must-win in the sense that, had Penn State lost, it could have meant this season spiraling out of control and fans talking about a potential return to the dark years.
Now everyone can take a step back from the ledge, wait and see if this turns into a two-game winning streak next week against Eastern Michigan and hope there's enough time before the really big games for the offense to find some semblance of respectability.
"Winning games like this, it feels good just to go in the locker room knowing that it was a war out there and it came down to the last minutes," Bolden said.
Much of the talk around the PSU program the past week has been about the defense needing to force turnovers, which it failed to do in last week's loss to Alabama.
"We emphasize it all the time," Joe Paterno said. "I've always tried to preach that turnovers make the difference, and you've got to make them happen."
The players and assistant coaches were reminded of it constantly in practice all week."
"Every time I walk by he says 'turnovers,'" defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said.
The Lions forced three Saturday, picking off two passes and recovering one fumble. Their offense couldn't capitalize on a fumble recovery by Nick Sukay or an interception by Chaz Powell, but it made amends after Mauti's pick.
Temple led 10-7 when it took over at its own 20-yard line with 10:43 to play. Quarterback Mike Gerardi hit Deon Miller for an 8-yard gain and a first down to the 33, but on the next play Mauti sniffed out the pass and made a sliding interception.
"I saw that there was just nobody covering the guy, and [Gerardi] was eyeing him down," Mauti said. "It was one of those deep crosses, one of those sell routes. I just stayed with him and got my hands on the ball."
Mauti is considered PSU's best defensive player and an All-America candidate, but him even being in the game at that point was a break for the Lions. He had taken a shot to the head earlier and came out, then underwent a series a concussion tests on the sideline.
Mauti was trying to convince the training staff he was OK, but he had to pass the tests to prove it. One of those tests, he said, was to start at 100 and count backwards by subtracting seven each time.
"I was like, 'Dude, I couldn't do that if I was sitting here right now,'" he joked. "That's why I'm not a math major."
Mauti also said he had to memorize sets of random items, which he was able to do to convince the trainers he could play. He and the other defensive players had a sense as the game went on that they would have to force a turnover to help win the game, which turned out to be the case.
Penn State's offense took over at the Temple 44, and on third-and-7, Bolden hit Devon Smith for 10 yards to the 31. The Lions converted on fourth-and-2 at the 23 when Bolden found Derek Moye for 11 yards.
Redd was out of the game with cramps, so Brandon Beachum was in and gained 5 yards on first down and 3 on second down to the Temple 4. Bolden then fumbled the snap on third-and-2, but PSU recovered.
"I don't know what happened there, but I almost had a heart attack," Bolden said.
The Lions sent out the field goal unit on fourth-and-1 at the 3, only to call timeout to give the coaches a chance to think it over.
"There was some indecision there," Bolden said. "We got the timeout and felt like we had some momentum so we could go for it."
Penn State went to a heavy formation with two tight ends and two fullbacks, and with the game on the line, Beachum muscled through the pile of humanity for 2 yards to set up first-and-goal at the 1.
Michael Zordich scored easily on the next play to give the Lions a 14-10 lead with 2:42 to play.
"This year our defense is going to keep us in a lot of games if our offense is struggling," said McGloin, who led PSU's other TD drive in the second quarter. "That's a great defensive unit. A lot of guys made some big-time plays today, and we're lucky to have them. But we have to continue to improve as an offense because it's not fair to them."
Temple threatened on its final chance after taking over at its 36 with 2:33 remaining. Penn State safety Drew Astorino was called for a personal foul for leaving his feet and hitting a Temple receiver up high, moving the Owls to the Lions' 34 with a minute and a half to go.
Penn State's defense came up big once again, however, getting pressure on Gerardi and forcing him into three incompletions. On fourth-and-10 at the 34, Sean Stanley sacked Gerardi and forced a fumble, sealing the win for the Lions.
"We've got a ways to go, obviously," Paterno said.
That is obvious, but it's a lot easier to swallow at 2-1 than at 1-2 with a loss to Temple.
Cory Giger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @CoryGiger on Twitter.