PHILADELPHIA - A funny thing happened en route to what would have been one of the lower moments of the Joe Paterno Era.
While Penn State's offense was playing, well, like it usually does and its horrific special teams were keeping Temple in the game - the Owls led or were tied for 57 of 60 minutes - the Nittany Lions actually showed some confidence in their offense and, by doing so, finally put away a 14-10 victory Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Though Temple is much improved and was extremely well prepared, especially defensively, the Lions knew they could not lose this game on the heels of the egg they laid against Alabama.
"It sounds bad because Temple is a good team, but it's one of those losses that you wouldn't show your face around town," senior receiver and offensive co-captain Derek Moye said.
That's one reason why when the Nittany Lions faced a fourth-and-1 from the Temple 3, trailing 10-7 with 3:06 left, the entire PSU sideline used a timeout to help convince Paterno to order the field-goal unit off the field and play for the win.
"We're upstairs talking to Joe, and Joe said, finally, 'let's go for it,''' offensive coordinator Galen Hall said.
It was a message the offensive team needed to hear.
"We felt for our squad and our offense we have to go punch this one in and try to make a statement and not wait for overtime," Hall said.
The interaction wasn't limited to the coaches.
"A lot of the guys were pushing that we have to go for this," senior fullback Michael Zordich said. "As an offense, we needed to see that the coaches had the faith in us and the confidence we'd get it done."
The call went to Brandon Beachum, and he gained 2 yards, setting up Zordich's 1-yard plunge a play later that allowed the Lions to avoid an embarrassing loss that would have sent this season careening over a cliff.
With an already fragile team ego, safety and defensive captain Drew Astorino admitted, "after a loss like Alabama, you can go in the tubes."
But he was encouraged how the entire team rallied behind the key call, saying, "just in case we didn't get a yard, we were confident we'd get a three-and-out," plus the Lions - surprisingly, based on their timeout mismanagement the last two weeks - had a full complement of stoppages available.
Paterno has been chiding the defense for its lack of turnovers, but the unit responded in a big way Saturday with two interceptions, three forced fumbles (one recovered) and two sacks.
The Lions needed every ounce of energy from their defense to overcome a blocked punt (the second in four games, dating back to the Outback Bowl) and three more missed field goals, including one that was blocked.
"Today, our poor kicking offset the fact that we did a really good job with the turnovers," Paterno said.
JoePa entered the game saying this is the best Temple team he's seen, dating back to 1950, and the Owls, save a curious quarterback rotation that must be contagious, played like it.
If no one will be impressed by the final score, the Lions at least overcame some of the adversity their special teams and seven penalties created.
"We have a ways to go," Paterno said. "Obviously."
But they also took some positive steps in that the defense met a challenge on the road against a team that will be in a bowl game somewhere and the offense left here thinking maybe the coaches believe.
"We wanted to be in games like this," senior tackle and offensive co-captain Quinn Barham said. "The offensive line - we wanted it. We wanted to put the team on our backs. [Fourth-down call] was important for our team's confidence and the attitude of the team."
The quarterback rotation between Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin was not a negative as both engineered come-from-behind touchdown drives. In particular, Bolden, save his third-down fumble inside the Temple 5 that could have cost the Lions their last chance in the fourth quarter, made some clutch throws.
Overall, though, Barham was not wrong to suggest, "Our offense was still sloppy. The defense did a good job holding their own."
It likely will be a script that will be repeated as the season unfolds.
"A lot of teams will do what Temple did today - blitzing and game plan against us," Barham said.
And if the Lions can't kick field goals, they will have to remain aggressive offensively because after Saturday's scrimmage with Eastern Michigan, there are no teams left on the schedule in which 14 points will be enough.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.