Penn State returns to the Beaver Stadium turf on Saturday to take on an old friend in the Maryland Terrapins, a team that has only beaten the Nittany Lions once in 37 contests. That means that if Penn State were to lose to Maryland every year for the next 30 years, they would still be better than .500 against the Terps. It's an amazing premise to wrap your brain around.
Does Penn State add to that winning streak this year or does Maryland beat the Lions for the first time since 1961 on Saturday? Our staff's picks:
Matt: Between the noon kickoff, questionable forecast, and the effects of an emotional, and physical game, this has all the makings of a let down. However, I think James Franklin, the staff, and perhaps most importantly, the team leadership, will keep that from happening.
After facing a couple of pretty good front 7's against Michigan and Ohio State, the PSU offense gets a bit of a reprieve against the Terps. The offensive line is hardly perfect, but there were more than a few promising signs against the Buckeyes that should carry over to this weekend. On the other side, Maryland's offense has looked largely ineffective against the better defenses they have faced, and PSU may be the best to date on their schedule. It won't be pretty, it never will be with this team, but PSU grinds out a typical November B1G win.
Penn State 23-17
Ryan: This has all the makeups of Indiana last year. A team with skill positions that are underrated and we'll find out how good they are by the end of Saturday.
The offensive line played better last week for all the flack they've received all year, but the fact there is still no running game worries me so much. This has all the makings of a hangover game with a lot, "what if" about last weekend. The key to this game will be special teams without a doubt. Maryland's returners are one of the most explosive groups in the country and the Penn State punting situation is in shambles to say the least.
Randy Edsall, you want a rivalry? Well, I guess you got one even though it still infuriates me the Turtles are in the Big Ten.
Nick Polak: I'm so conflicted about this game. I went into this week fully expecting Penn State to lose. All the pieces for a letdown game are in place, which is kind of strange to say for a team on a three game losing streak. But the facts are the facts, and one of those facts is that Penn State played it's best football of the season in the losing effort against Ohio State. The Nittany Lions are bound to be mentally exhausted, even after a week of recovery and Maryland preparation. Maryland has some big play capability that could hurt PSU, with CJ Brown and Stefon Diggs. It's another dreaded noon kickoff time, and the Lions have yet to seem awake and ready to go for one of those this season.
It's not that I don't think Penn State has the talent to win comfortably, because they do. I just worry that the Terps will start fast, and Penn State won't recover. Of course, if the defense continues to play like it did last week, I wouldn't be surprised to see consecutive shutouts until we play Sparty. So honestly, who knows. A week full of reflection and deep thought has led me to take a more optimistic look on this game.
I think this is the week that Akeel Lynch grabs hold of the starting running back job, and doesn't let go. The Terps have an extremely poor run defense, and with the amount that the Lions threw the ball last weekend, expect to see them really try to get the running game going early on. Lynch ends up with 149 yards and a pair of touchdowns (one from the wildcat), Hackenberg throws 210 and two scores (one to Godwin and one to Mike Gesicki), and Marcus Allen grabs his first college interception in the effort. In OT, the second of Lynch's two touchdowns comes from 17 yards out on a 2nd and 4, and Penn State stops CJ Brown two yards short of the sticks to seal the victory.
Penn State 31-24 (OT)
bscaff: Maryland's returned 7 kicks more than 30 yards this season (3 kickoffs, 4 punts). So let's celebrate every Sam Ficken touchback, and every 30+ yard punt that's kicked out of bounds. Even if Gulla or Pasquariello shank one 25 yards - so short that Terp return man William Likely can't reach it - that's a win, too. Cheer it.
On defense, the keys to victory are discipline, tackling, and pressure up the middle. Maryland runs a very funky spread on offense, chock full o' run-pass options, and loads of misdirection. It tests every defender's discipline, and forces you to make one-on-one tackles. And once they've sucked you in to stop all of that short side-to-side action, they go deep with three different receivers, each of whom can get vertical in a hurry. Fortunately, Penn State's a disciplined defense that tackles well. Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson should own the Terps interior linemen, and that provides a bit of comfort against the UMD big play. Without the big play, Maryland won't score much, because they struggle to sustain drives, owing to a ton of negative plays (nearly 7 per game, which is equally as bad as...)
Penn State's offense, no matter which five linemen start on Saturday, gets a prime chance at redemption. Terp defensive coordinator Brian Stewart never runs the same front two plays in a row, and he also slants a lot. Sometimes that confuses an offense and gets his defense a TFL. Unfortunately for Stewart, his multiple scheme also confuses his own front seven. They frequently get out of position, blow gaps, and give up chunk runs. If John Donovan sticks with the rushing attack for a second week in a row, despite the inevitable TFLs, he'll eventually be rewarded. That, plus a no-big-plays defense and kicking the ball out of bounds, puts our Lions back in the win column for the first time in over a month.
Penn State 20-17
Nick Blonde: Normally, I'd say Penn State was due for a letdown after a game like last week, but with so many kids from Maryland I see them being especially focused. Franklin will also certainly relish taking it to the school that showed him the door, but will have to wait until he's got a fully functioning offensive line to really lay it on. I expect Maryland special teams provide the Terps few bright spots and Penn State to handle everything else.
Penn State 24-13
Tim A: (Out late last night, probably celebrating a big Penn State win a few nights early.)
Penn State 17-16
Dan: I was terrified of this game when I first saw it on the schedule due to Maryland's absurd talent at the offensive skill positions and the fact that Penn State would probably be coming off of demoralizing loss to Ohio State. Well, Randy Edsall has failed to find his team's offensive identity as we head into November and Penn State played their best game all season last Saturday in a losing effort. I'm much less terrified now.
Bob Shoop has been a godsend and may earn his salary and more again on Saturday if the Penn State special teams allow Stefon Diggs to alter the field position game by himself. This is a defense, however, that has all the ability to hold Maryland to three points if a breakdown occurs in the final third of the Penn State team.
I expect Akeel Lynch to solidify himself as the top running back choice for the offense, something I've clamored for since before the season started, and for the offensive line to continue with the strides they made last week with Wendy Laurent getting more playing time at center and allowing Angelo Mangiro to rotate back to his normal guard position. Christian Hackenberg will begin to get more comfortable since he has additional time to throw, finally, and just maybe we'll see a focused gameplan that includes getting the tight ends out in space to grab some longer passes.
The situation, the gametime, the fact that students may be too hungover from Halloween to make it to their seats by noon: this has all the feeling of a let-down spot. I believe it will be just the opposite.
Penn State 27-13
FROM THE PREVIEW:
Jared: Penn State 17-13
FROM THE PODCAST:
Adam: Penn State 24-14
Bill: Penn State 24-16
Cari: Penn State 24-10
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