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.
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.
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.