STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - It had numerous missed tackles and special-teams gaffes and committed 13 penalties, but on Saturday Temple started becoming the team it expects to be and should be.

There were no moral victories in the Owls' 34-27 loss to Penn State at Beaver Stadium, especially since Temple beat the Nittany Lions to begin last year.

This isn't the same Temple team as a year ago, not quite measuring up in talent or fire. But the Owls are building to be in that image.

The one Temple characteristic that was reminiscent of a year ago in a school-record-tying 10-win season was an ability to fight.

When the score and rabid Penn State fans seemed too much to overcome, Temple refused to fall off the cliff.

Temple had little fight in a 28-13 loss to Army and next to no competition in a 38-0 win last weekend over Stony Brook. But on this picture-perfect day in Happy Valley, the Owls had plenty of both.

Now the key will be to build off this effort, as flawed as it was.

"We didn't play really hard against Army at times and be physical," Temple coach Matt Rhule said. "We were physical today and we did do a lot of great things, but you have to do your job."

Getting assessed 13 penalties for 118 yards doesn't help get the job done.

One of those penalties, a block in the back, wiped out a 34-yard scoring pass from Phillip Walker to Marshall Ellick in the third quarter. The Owls ended up punting.

Also not helping is missed tackles, especially on special teams.

The tackles weren't the only things the Owls missed.

"I feel we missed some of the details and we have to go back to the drawing board and correct them for next week," said defensive end Haason Reddick, who was sensational in defeat with seven tackles, including three for loss.

Reddick believes that the 1-2 Owls are showing improvement.

"We are very close and each week the details are getting better," he said.

The Owls could be described as disappointed but not discouraged.

Maybe they understand that they won't face a much better team in the regular season than Penn State, and were still alive in the game until Phillip Walker was leveled and threw an interception to John Reid with 25 seconds left.

"We felt we played good, but not good enough because we lost," Walker said.

Still, when it was 21-10 at the half and the 100,420 at Beaver Stadium smelled blood, Temple hung around, getting to within 27-24 when Jahad Thomas scored on a 2-yard run with 8 minutes, 10 seconds left.

Three plays later Saquon Barkley broke tackles and Temple hearts with a 55-yard touchdown run that gave the Nittany Lions breathing room.

Temple received a major boost from the return of Thomas, who missed the first two games with a dislocated thumb. He rushed for 52 yards and two touchdowns and caught six passes for 48 yards. He was also excellent in pass protection and leadership.

"He gave us energy," Rhule said.

And fight as well.

"I want to be the guy who creates the juice," he said.

Rhule said, "If this team figures out what it takes to win, if they didn't learn it today, they'll never learn it."

Temple is learning the hard way. The coach learned that this year's team can show last season's fight, and that this game could be the turning point.