clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

No. 12 Penn State vs. Maryland: Game Preview

It’s about time for some Friday Night Lights for Penn State’s first road game of the season!

NCAA Football: Maryland at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State looks to move to 4-0 as it kicks off Big Ten play in a Friday night clash at Maryland.

(#12) Penn State (3-0) vs. Maryland (2-1)

Kickoff: 8 p.m., Maryland Stadium, College Park, MD

The Betting Line: Penn State -6.5

TV: FS1 - Tim Brando (play-by-play), Spencer Tillman (analyst), Coley Harvey (sideline)

Weather: A dry, warm and sunny day will turn into a beautiful night for football by 8 p.m. Temps will fall to the upper-60s by the end of the game.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 48-21, 6th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 72-36, 9th Year

VS. MARYLAND: 4-1

Mike Locksley:

MARYLAND RECORD: 2-6, 1st Full Season

OVERALL RECORD: 5-32, 4th Season

VS. PENN STATE: 0-1*

*Locksley was Maryland’s interim head coach for the 2015 contest.

NOW THE FUN PART....

MARYLAND OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

Maryland’s Anthony McFarland Jr. will be the best player Penn State’s defense has faced this year, and likely the best running back outside of Ohio State’s JK Dobbins throughout the regular season. He has a broad skill set, and is especially dangerous when he sees any open space in front of him. The Nittany Lions run defense has been fantastic thus far, and will need to keep him in check to avoid any big plays that McFarland creates with regularity.

While McFarland will receive the bulk of the carries, the Terps have several other capable running backs. Javon Leake and Jake Funk are each averaging just over 10 yards a carry, with 17 and 18 rushing attempts on the season, respectively. Junior Tayon Fleet-Davis has also played well, picking up 146 yards on 27 carries this season. The running backs all contribute in the passing game, and it should be expected that Maryland uses a gameplan that will work to get the ball in their hands in space with quick passes to offset the speed of Penn State’s front seven.

Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson has taken on quarterback duties for the Terps, with mixed results in three games. In the first two games against Howard and Syracuse, Jackson completed 58 percent of his passes for 550 yards, seven touchdowns to just one interception. However, he’s coming off a rough outing against Temple where he completed just 39.5 percent of his attempts with one touchdown and an interception. Jackson has become mostly a primary passer since his freshman season with the Hokies. His only game with positive rushing yards this season came against Syracuse, where he had just six yards on four carries.

Jackson does a nice job of spreading the ball out among his pass catchers. The Terps have 10 players with at least three receptions, and none with more than nine after three games. Sophomore Dontay Demus is off to the best start with nine receptions for 167 yards and two scores, although 100 yards and both touchdowns came against Howard. He is a speedy, 6-foot-3-inch target that could cause some problems for the secondary. Tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo is another frequent target, and fellow tight end Tyler Mabry has developed into a playmaker, scoring a touchdown in all three games thus far.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. MARYLAND DEFENSE

Ohio State transfer Keandre Jones could play a big part in keeping Sean Clifford and the rest of the offense out of rhythm on Friday night. The senior linebacker is off to a fast start in his only only season with the Terps, picking up 3.5 sacks and 4.5 TFLs on the season. He’s also third on the team with 15 tackles. Defensive tackle Oluwaseun Oluwatimi could also make things difficult, as he’s found his way into the opponents backfield regularly this season.

The Terps are averaging four sacks per game thus far, and like to send pressure from all over. It will be essential for Penn State to fix it’s pass-blocking issues, both along the line and in the backfield, to keep Maryland at bay and give Clifford time in the pocket in his first road game as starting quarterback.

Maryland’s most decorated player on defense is safety Antoine Brooks Jr., who is more than comfortable to also play near the line of scrimmage. Brooks is leading the team in tackles by a wide margin, with 22 of his 25 tackles being solo. He does an exceptional job of making tackles in space, and is an overall playmaker across the field. While he has yet to record a TFL this season, he led the conference among defensive backs in that category last year. The senior entered the season on watch lists for the Nagurski and Bednarik Awards, and could hear his name called fairly early in the 2020 NFL Draft.

As previously mentioned, the key for Penn State’s offense will be to keep Sean Clifford upright. Pitt succeeded in applying enough pressure to get him rattled and miss some easy targets. Maryland will do all they can with an active front seven to get him rattled and confused outside the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Terps have only attempted one field goal this season, an unsuccessful 45-yard attempt. Kicker Josepth Petrino was 12 of 14 in 2018, with a long of 40 yards. Colton Spangler and Anthony Pecorella have split punting duties with both performing well, but neither separating himself either. Senior wide receiver DJ Turner has proved dangerous as a punt returner. He has a staggering 35.7 yard punt return average off three attempts that includes a 55-yard touchdown.

Turner is among the team’s talented kick returners as well, but let’s face it— they aren;t likely to get a chance to return a kick thanks to automatic touchback machine, Jordan Stout. In addition to regularly putting kickoffs out of the end zone, Stout also has made two 50-plus yard field goals on the season, including a program-record 57-yarder against Pitt.

PREDICTION

Penn State-27, Maryland-21

This is such a tough game to predict for several reasons. Foremost among them is Maryland’s inconsistency. Just like a year ago, Maryland came out hot with an upset of a ranked team before falling flat to Temple in week three. While Maryland has been looking to break through since joining the Big Ten, they have struggled to find consistency. They can blow past a ranked team (Syracuse in week two, Texas the last two seasons) or go toe-to-toe with a contender (Ohio State a season ago). They can also fall apart against a team like Temple, or be outright flattened like against Penn State the last two seasons, where they have lost by a combined 104-6 against the Nittany Lions in ‘17 and ‘18.

It seems silly to be so concerned about a team that Penn State has pounded into a fine dust for three years running. The last two games of the series came in the regular season finale, when Maryland seemed to have packed it in for the season - especially a year ago, when they were off the heels of a near-upset against the Buckeyes the previous week. This year, the Nittany Lions will be playing an inspired Terps squad who will be looking for its breakout game under the lights.

James Franklin this game has the feel of the 2014 Rutgers game or 2015 Maryland game. That hits the nail right on the head for me. It seems like one of those games were the opponent comes out fired up, does some damage and makes Penn State fans awfully nervous before the good guys eventually take care of business. I’m expecting this game to go down to the wire with plenty of momentum swings before Penn State makes a couple fourth quarter plays to leave with the victory.