Maryland Football VS Penn State Preview


The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (5-3) and Penn State Nittany Lions (4-3)

The Time: 12 PM EST

The Location: Beaver Stadium, State College, Pennsylvania

TV/Radio: BTN, 105.7 FM

The Coaches: Randy Edsall (4th year, 18-27 at Maryland) and James Franklin (1st year at Penn State, 4-3)

The Backstory

The Maryland Terrapins aren’t exactly limping into one of the most anticipated games of the season, but anyone who told you their confidence hadn’t been knocked down a peg would be lying. The Terps went to Madison, Wisconsin last week and suffered one of the worst defeats the program had seen in decades against a Badgers team that caught them sleeping, 52-7.

For the vast majority of the game, the Terrapins were seemingly unable to move the ball. At one point, the offense went 13 straight drives without picking up a single first down while the Badgers scored at will. The defense gave up 527 yards and made Joel Stave look like Russell Wilson. Meanwhile, Melvin Gordon managed to pile up 122 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, while Corey Clement added in 90 of his own.

The Terps have been poor against some of the top teams this year, and when they travel to Penn State to face one of the best defenses in the country, they’re going to be tested again. Though James Franklin is a familiar foe, history suggests it won’t matter who the opposing head coach of Penn State is. Penn State has a pretty firm grip on this series with a 35-1-1 record against Maryland, but those wins were picked up by older regimes.

Penn State might be suffering a bit of an emotional hangover from last week, where they ultimately lost to Ohio State in a very controversial double-overtime match. The defense managed to frustrate Heisman hopeful and red hot freshman J.T. Barrett enough to bait him into an uncharacteristic two interceptions. Ohio State was held in check for under 300 yards for the first time all season, which is a testament to how good this Penn State defense is.

They’re eighth in points against, give up very few yards on the ground thanks to a very stout front four and an even more impressive linebacker group. Given Maryland’s struggles of late on offense and the fact that they’re playing on the road in a very tough environment, this one’s going to be interesting.

Maryland wins if…

The offense simplifies itself, big time. It’s pretty disappointing that Maryland has still yet to establish an offensive identity that works, but that is more or less where we’re at right now with this team. The read-option with C.J. Brown works against bad teams, but it has proven time and again not to work against quality opponents. That means against Penn State, the Terps cannot just put the game into C.J. Brown’s hands and expect a W.

Every game that Maryland has won the time of possession battle, they have proceeded to win that game. If Maryland is picking up two yards on every option run with Brown and throwing incompletions 50% of the time, the offense won’t click. When Maryland ran it 46 times against Iowa, they racked up 212 yards on the ground. It doesn’t matter if those carries come from Wes Brown or Brandon Ross, but they have to get utilized more often.

C.J. Brown is liable to get obliterated by some of these hard-hitting Penn State LBs. Why not let other guys like Ross and Brown take some of those licks instead of your injury prone QB? It’s a tragedy that a guy (Ross) who is averaging 18.4 yards per catch out of the backfield and 4.4 yards per carry is averaging under 9 touches per game. Even Wes Brown is averaging 4 yards per carry, might as well just try and let those two backs just do what they do best: run.

Letting C.J. Brown air it out isn’t the solution against Penn State because, well, he can’t air it out well. Give him the passes less than ten yards away that he’s so good at, and let the backs absorb the brunt of having to face that Penn State run defense. Grinding yardage out and draining that clock for every cent its worth can work. Trying to beat Penn State through the air against a pretty stingy defense, however, won’t.

Key Matchup: Will Likely vs Penn State punt coverage

Penn State’s offense is awful, and even against a defense as porous as Maryland’s they’re still going to struggle. Worse still is that their punters are pretty bad as well (despite having an Australian import doing the kicking for them), and they use them a lot. Maryland’s got one of the best punt returners in college football in Will Likely, and him giving this offense short field position will be a boon for an offense that needs all the help it can get.

Likely has got to get Maryland to the 40 against a defense like Penn State’s. That means the offense only needs to go about 40 yards to get into Brad Craddock’s range. Maryland can kick the Nittany Lions to death even on a windy, rainy day like tomorrow is expected to be.

Prediction Time: 7-1 this season

This game actually does remind me of Virginia Tech last season quite a bit. A tough defensive team with an offense that can’t move the ball versus a team that should be solid offensively but struggles against tough teams, played in a tough road venue. Maryland won that game on the back of C.J. Brown, and it was one of his most impressive performances to date.

If he can do that again, they’ll beat Penn State. Still, I don’t think Penn State will be as forgiving as that Virginia Tech team was, and it’s going to be a long day for Maryland (though the game will stay relatively close)

Penn State 28-17