If Penn State loses their fourth straight game this weekend, it won't happen on an even playing field. Oh no, this isn't an issue of poor turf management (shout out Turfgrass Science majors--keep up the good work) - this is a matter of top secret intelligence, carefully procured over three years, and it happened right under Penn State's nose. I'm talking, of course, about the Mason-Dixon Man of Mystery, former Penn State basketball player Jon Graham.
Like any good conspiracy theory, there is some damning evidence to support this claim. For one, Graham now goes by the name, "Jonathan." He was pulling the wool over our Penn State's eyes from day one. Now, I know what you're probably wondering: "Chad, Jon Graham left at the end of the 2012-13 season, a whole year before Penn State hired James Franklin. How could he steal his secrets?" You fool. You're just a pawn in Maryland's master plan for B1G domination and you don't even know it.
This Season - Maryland: 5-3 (2-2); Jon Graham: 1.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg
The Terps have settled in as a middle-of-the-pack team in their first B1G season, which is the perfect cover when you think about it. Randy Edsall's bunch have beaten teams that are as good or worse than the Terps, but haven't been able to spring any successful upset bids. The 40-37 home loss to a now-ranked West Virginia squad is probably the best indicator of where Maryland falls on the college football landscape.
Those are Graham's numbers from the 2013-14 season, and according to this profile from Testudo Times, he's not expected to be a major contributor in 2014-15, either. Admit it, you forgot about Jon Graham, and if it weren't for this exposé, you'd be lost.
The Terps aren't averse to putting points on the board, but moving the ball has proven to be difficult at times. Some of that can be chalked up to injury - quarterbacks C.J. Brown and Caleb Rowe have suffered more than their fair share of bumps and bruises. Brown has played in every game but has had to deal with a sprained wrist as well as a back injury lately, and Rowe is out for the year with a torn ACL after getting extensive playing time against Indiana and Ohio State. Makes you appreciate Christian Hackenberg's health, doesn't it?
Onto the numbers. When he has played, Brown has been marginally effective as a dual-threat under center. He leads Maryland with 376 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns, but his passing numbers leave a little to be desired. Brown is completing a mere 55% of his throws and sports a TD:INT ratio of 8:6. When he does find a receiver, it's usually future-NFLer Stefon Diggs, who is having a fantastic season to the tune of 46 catches, 601 yards and five touchdowns.
Maryland's run game, or lack thereof, should equal a huge advantage for the Nittany Lions. As mentioned, Brown is the leading rusher on the year, and Brandon Ross and Wes Brown (no relation to C.J.) have seen equal time in the backfield, each with limited success. Combined, the duo has averaged 4.2 yards per carry on 117 carries, with neither topping the hundred-yard mark in a single game on their own.
Of course, none of this matters, because Maryland has been sandbagging this entire season to appear as docile as possible for Penn State, who will be at the mercy of the intel provided to Randy Edsall by that scalawag Jon Graham. Without giving away all the known unknowns, did you know there are secret trapdoors under the Beaver Stadium turf? It's true, and Maryland will have players popping out of the ground and catching passes on Saturday, mostly because the previous administration at PSU forgot to leave James Franklin their notes about this stuff [insert Dave Joyner/Rodney Erickson knee-slapper here].
If Penn State's ground game is ever going to turn things around, it'll happen on Saturday. Maryland is 110th nationally against the run, giving up an average of 212.38 yards per game. They succumbed fully to Wisconsin's rushing attack, allowing the Badgers 311 yards of running room last week. And that's where I'll stop comparing Penn State's running backs to Melvin Gordon and co. Regardless, there's an opportunity for the Nittany Lions to expose a weakness here.
It's important Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton exploit that front seven because the Terps' pass rush and secondary are clear strengths. Two players stand out from the front seven: defensive lineman Andre Monroe (6.5 sacks) and rush linebacker Yannick Ngakoue (10.5 TFL). Leading his team with four interceptions, two of which were returned for scores, senior Will Likely will likely will his secondary to nab at least one key turnover before this one ends.
In what is surely the dumbest possible thing about this Penn State football season, the Nittany Lions' aptitude for punting the ball out of bounds and well short of any planned target yard-line could serve as an advantage against Maryland's return unit. The Terps are second in Football Outsiders' special teams F+/- ratings, and average 17.5 yards per return. Likely shook a punter before he housed a nice 69-yarder against West Virginia, so punting the ball into the stands might be a decent strategy.
Kicker Brad Craddock hasn't missed a single extra point or field goal all season. This is not a reverse jinx attempt.*
*this is a reverse jinx attempt
Last Week: 52-7 L at Wisconsin
MelGor ran wild, as MelGor is wont to do. The Terps avoided a shutout with a garbage-time touchdown with :57 on the clock, and Edsall had this to offer after the game (via AP):
"We got outcoached. We got outplayed today, and didn't do a real good job -- and that's on me as a head coach."
Maybe Jon Graham should've started his career at Wisconsin in this meaningless, poorly thought out attempt at a cheap gag.
Blog You Should Also Be Reading This Week
Testudo Times. Hoo boy, the commenters there do not like Penn State. That's my impression, at least. But that's okay, I still love TT anyway. They do great work there and it's a blog well worth checking out this week and beyond.
Actually, maybe Jon Graham was a sleeper cell for this game during his redshirt year at Penn State. That makes a lot more sense now that I think about it. Disregard all that crazy talk above.