How Does Maryland Stop Penn State’s Offense


Oct 25, 2014; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Tanner McEvoy (5) during the game against the Maryland Terrapins at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 52-7. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In a game that has been circled on many calendars for quite some time, Saturday’s Maryland/Penn State contest provides a unique amount of storylines on both sides of the football. I’ll take a look at what the Terrapins’ defense has to do in order to limit the Nittany Lions production this weekend.

1.) Get to the quarterback – It’s the common goal in every football game, but this is monumental for the Terps. Penn State’s offensive line has struggled at times, and has surrendered 22 sacks (sixth in Big Ten) on the season. With 20 starts under his belt entering the year, left tackle and Owings Mills product Donovan Smith anchors the offensive line, and is definitely the strongest piece that Maryland will have to deal with. Despite Smith’s wealth of experience, the Nittany Lions also have a pair of freshmen in Brendan Mahon and Andrew Nelson. There’s not a ton of experience in the trenches (excluding Smith, only 27 starts in this group), so Maryland has to take advantage. Defensive end Andre Monroe and linebacker Yannick Ngakoue have combined for 10.5 on the year thus far, and are the key cogs for Maryland’s pass rush. If the Terps can get in Christian Hackenberg’s face and make him hurry his passes, Maryland has a great shot to win this game.

2.) Open field tackling –  Despite losing stud wideout Allen Robinson from last year’s squad, Penn State has some serious burners on offense. Running back Bill Belton and wideouts DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis can really do some damage in open space. Maryland has had issues getting off the field, and making key tackles at times this season (the West Virginia comes to mind). The Terps are 11th in the Big Ten in third down defense as they are allowing conversions at a 39.7 percent clip. On the other hand, the Nittany Lions are fourth in the Big Ten in third down conversions as they are reaching the stick at a 42.7 percent rate.

Maryland does get a break with physical back Zack Zwinak now being out for the season. Belton is a guy that doesn’t have a great statistic line (only 3.7 yards-per-carry), and only 266 rushing yards on the season. However, the Sickerville, NJ native is very shifty and elusive in space. Belton has 20 receptions this season, including one for a touchdown.

The Terps do have a fairly strong front seven, despite losing starter Quinton Jefferson earlier in the year. If the linebackers are able to play fast and get to the ball carriers early on in plays, Maryland could have a solid outing at Beaver Stadium.

3.) Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers – While Hackenberg is the top quarterback in the Big Ten statistically, he does throw a good amount of interceptions. In fact, the Virginia native has nine interceptions on the season. With ball-hawking defensive backs like William Likely and Sean Davis flying around the defensive backfield, turnovers can be had if the right reads are made. Hackenberg tossed a pair of picks against Ohio State last week, and didn’t have the best game (only 224 passing yards on 31 completions. If Maryland can force Hackenberg into some bad throws, victory will definitely be within reach.