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Penn State-Maryland Game Preview

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Penn State tries to avoid a four-game drought in a dreaded noon game against Big Ten newbie Maryland.

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State (4-3, 1-3) vs. Maryland (5-3, 2-2)

Kickoff: Noon, Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Line: PSU -3

TV: ESPN2 Beth Mowins (play-by-play), Joey Galloway (analyst) Paul Carcaterra (sideline)

Weather: A chilly afternoon in the upper 30s/low 40s with a chance of showers. 

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 4-3, 1st Year

OVERALL RECORD: 29-18, 4th Year

VS. MARYLAND: 0-0

Randy Edsall:

MARYLAND RECORD: 18-27, 4th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 92-97, 16th Year

VS. PENN STATE: 0-0

...NOW THE FUN PART

MARYLAND OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE
Maryland has one of the poorest rushing attacks of the Power Five teams, meaning they likely won't be able to accomplish much on the ground against Penn State's stout run defense. More than likely, the Terrapins will need to rely on active passing game to move the ball on Saturday. This means the success of the Maryland offense will rest solely on the shoulders on Cranberry Township native C.J. Brown. The senior quarterback got off to a great start before having his worst performances of the season in consecutive weeks against Iowa and Wisconsin. With Penn State having the best defense the Terps have faced so far, Brown's slump may continue for another week.

In fairness, Brown's performance has likely suffered because of injuries. In the past few weeks he has suffered from a back injury as well as a sprained wrist. He is listed as probable, and should remain as the starter on Saturday. If Brown is unable to play, the Terps will rely on junior quarterback Caleb Rowe, a tall dropback quarterback who lacks the mobility of Brown. Rowe is an experienced backup who gives Maryland a solid option if needed. He has connected on 34 of 54 pass attempts for 489 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions on the season. However, with Rowe in the lineup, the Terps miss out on the dimension that Brown brings to the offense as the team's leading rusher (although this may have more to do with a lack of talent in the backfield rather than Brown's exceptional running ability). Brown had one of the best plays of the college football season with an incredible 75-yard touchdown run in a narrow loss to West Virginia.

As you likely know by now, the player to keep an eye on is receiver Stefon Diggs. The junior is one of the most electrifying players in the nation and has the ability to create a big play every time the ball is in his hands. Like Brown, he's also coming off his worst game of the season with just one reception for 21 yards against the Badgers. Jordan Lucas will almost assuredly line up opposite Diggs, with help from the safety position as well. If Maryland is able to get Diggs the ball in space and create a few big plays, Penn State's offense will likely have a difficult time keeping up. Diggs against Penn State's secondary should be the key matchup of the game. After Diggs, Deon Long is a reliable receiver who should convert a few first downs against the Nittany Lions.

MARYLAND DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE

Maryland is reminiscent of some of the more recent Indiana squads- explosive on offense but typically gives up plenty of points. The Terps give up more than 212 yards on the ground per game, which means even Penn State's last-in-the-nation rushing attack could have moderate success on the ground this week.

The Terps have had success getting to the quarterback, which is a scary prospect for Penn State. Expect them kill a few drives by finding their way to Christian Hackenberg. The ability to get to the quarterback is what makes Maryland's pass defense slightly better than their run defense, but not by much. Hackenberg could be in for a huge day if he's given time- which is a very big if. Maryland cornerback Will Likely leads the Big Ten in interceptions, and may increase his statline is Hackenberg is forced into his usual poor decision or two each game.

This may be the week we see Akeel Lynch get the majority of the carries for the Nittany Lions. It seems clear that he is the best bet to move the ball on the ground, as difficult as that has been all season. Lynch's field vision is reminiscent of Evan Royster, and he seems to have a better burst than the all-time Nittany Lions leading rusher. If Miles Dieffenbach returns to the lineup on Saturday, expect Penn State to try to run behind him and Donovan Smith on the left side of the line.

SPECIAL TEAMS:
Thanks to Diggs' playmaking ability, the Terps have one of the best return games in the nation. Penn State must find a way to contain him, because a return touchdown could easily be the difference in this game.

Maryland has an outstanding kicker in Brad Craddock. The junior is perfect on the season in both field goals (12 of 12) and extra points (31 of 31). He also has outstanding range, regularly blasting long field goals including a 57-yarder against Ohio State. The Terps are in excellent hands if the game comes down to a late field goal. Maryland has another outstanding specialist in punter Nathan Renfro, who is averaging 41.0 yards per punt.

Last week Penn State punter Chris Gulla was benched in favor of freshman Daniel Pasquariello, who did not fare much better. Both have proven they have the ability to get the job done, but seem to be battling with the mental aspect of the game at this point.

PREDICTION

PENN STATE-17 MARYLAND-13
For the last several weeks I've counted this game as a loss for Penn State. It seemed as though Maryland would be able to put up some points, and the Nittany Lions offense would be too anemic to keep up. But following Penn State's outstanding performance against Ohio State coupled with Maryland's dreadful showing against Wisconsin, I've come around- even with the historically dreadful noon kickoff.

As high as I've been on Penn State's resurgent defense all season, last week's performance proved they are among the very best in the nation. The key to this game will be limiting big plays. If that is accomplished, Penn State should be able to limit the Terps productivity and score enough to break the three-game losing streak. Part of me believes the offense will begin to turn the corner after a promising ending against Ohio State. But considering  it took the Nittany Lions until a few minutes into the fourth quarter to reach 100 yards of total offense against the Buckeyes, that's likely very wishful thinking on my part.

Penn State does just enough to get back in the 'W' column. Geno Lewis bounces back with a 120-yard performance and a touchdown, Mike Hull has another monster game by collecting 17 tackles and recovering a fumble, and Anthony Zettel and C.J. Olaniyan both finish the game with two tackles for loss.