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Penn State vs. Maryland: Game Preview

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Penn State seeks its first victory of the season as the Terps roll into town.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Maryland Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Nittany Lions are still seeking the first victory of the season, while Maryland hopes to build off its thrilling overtime victory against Minnesota in week two.

Penn State (0-2) vs. Maryland (1-1)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Betting Line: Penn State -24.5

TV: BTN - Lisa Byington (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analyst), Coley Harvey (sideline)

Weather: A downright beautiful, clear day with sunshine and a high of 65.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 56-25, 7th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 80-40, 10th Year

VS. MARYLAND: 5-1

Michael Locksley:

MARYLAND RECORD: 5-15, 2nd Year (plus six games in 2015)

OVERALL RECORD: 7-41, Sixth Year

VS. PENN STATE: 0-2

FUN FACTS

Penn State last started the season 0-2 in 2012 before going on a five-game winning streak...Pat Freiermuth is just 19 yards shy of 1,000 career receiving yards, while Jahan Dotson needs another 71 yards to reach the same milestone...Penn State has lost its last three games played on Nov. 7, with the last victory coming against Maryland in 1997...the final game in the Old Beaver Field was played on this date in 1908, as the Nittany Lions cruised past Bucknell 33-6.

MARYLAND OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

The Terps offense got off to a rocky start by producing just a field goal against Northwestern in week one, before starting off hot by building a 21-0 first quarter advantage on their way to a 45-44 overtime victory against Minnesota.

The offense is led by sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (yes, Tua’s younger bro), who has offered two radically different performances to start the season. Week one saw him throw for just 94 yards on 25 attempts, with three interceptions and no touchdown passes. However, he had a drastic turnaround to complete 74.3 percent of his passes for 394 yards, three touchdowns and one pick in week two. He was also a contributor in the ground game, rushing to 59 yards and two touchdowns. In the previous week, he finished with -16 rushing yards against the Wildcats. It seems clear that Tagovailoa will need to replicate last week’s performance to keep Maryland competitive.

Tagovailoa has been sacked three times this season, and the Nittany Lions should be able to add at least a couple more to that total on Saturday.

Dontay Demus Jr. and Jeshaun Jones are the main receivers to watch, and both boast the size that could create some mismatches, especially on the 50/50 balls that always seem to go against the Nittany Lions. Demus Jr. is coming off a 101-yard performance with a touchdown against the Gophers.

Senior Jake Funk is playing a major role with the offense for the first time, and he more than delivered last week. Funk rushed for 221 yards on just 21 carries, averaging a first down a pop with a touchdown along the way. Penn State will need to avoid being taken to funky town and get the Terps off the field on third downs to avoid being worn down in the second half.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. MARYLAND DEFENSE

Linebacker Chance Campbell will lead the way for the Terps defense. The junior has been a one-man wrecking crew for Maryland’s otherwise struggling defense. Campbell leads the Big Ten with 28 tackles, and leads the team with four TFLs and a sack. The Terps have had difficulty getting to the quarterback this season, with Campbell’s sack being the only one in the first two weeks. The lack of pressure seems to prevent other opportunities for Maryland, as they have yet to force a turnover in two games.

Sophomore safety andformer Penn State target Nick Cross, who picked off a Sean Clifford pass last season, is fourth on the team with 11 tackles.

Clifford had great difficulty against the Ohio State pass rush last week, and oftentimes took off running or threw the ball away before he was under any real pressure. This will need urgently address, and Saturday could be an excellent opportunity to remain in the pocket and make reads in the Maryland defense again fails to produce regular pressure.

Jahan Dotson is currently tied for the Big Ten lead in receiving yards after a red-hot start to the season which included 144 yards and three scores against the Buckeyes Shaun Wade, a projected top 10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. True freshman Parker Washington continues to develop, and had an impressive performance with four catches for 73 yards against Ohio State after scoring his first touchdown against Indiana in week one.

Devyn Ford will lead the way for the ground attack, but as James Franklin has noted, true freshman Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes will be expected to play a larger role to make up for the absence of Journey Brown and Noah Cain, the team’s top two running backs heading into the season. With Maryland giving up more than 300 yards of rushing per game, it seems like a golden opportunity to get the freshman some carries and work out any kinks in the ground game moving forward.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Maryland kicker Joseph Petrino is two of three on the season with his only miss coming on a 50-yard attempt. He did boot a 51-yarder in the team’s overtime victory against Minnesota on Friday. The junior is 14 of 22 on career field goal attempts and 82 of 85 on extra points. Sophomore Colton Spangler is averaging 37.8 yards per punt this season after averaging 39.5 yards a season ago.

Freshman running back Isaiah Jacobs is the primary kick returner, boasting a 16.3 yard average. Jeshaun Jones is the only Terp to return a punt this season, gaining five yards on his only attempt.

After missing both field goal attempts in week one, Jake Pinegar was able to connect on his sole attempt against the Buckeyes, a 31-yarder. Jordan Stout was also able to connect on a 50-yarder to give the Nittany Lions a fighting chance heading into halftime.

PREDICTION

Penn State-31, Maryland-14

This is the type of game that Penn State needed to start the season to work out its kinks and prepare for stiffer competition. The Terps have been mostly unimpressive on both sides of the ball thus far, and the Nittany Lions should be able to easily outmatch them. However, this is far from a secure victory. Maryland has proven to be dangerous when it shows up, and any form of chaos should be expected during this highly unusual season.

We also don’t know how the 0-2 start is impacting the psyche of the team. While the program has shown great resolve under Franklin, it could be difficult to find the needed-motivation after the thoughts of a playoff berth and conference crown were so quickly dashed. This will be a crucial game that could dictate the remainder of the season. If the team doesn’t show up and drops another game, we could see a tailspin with several more losses. They could also right the ship and have a solid chance of winning out the remainder of the season.

I believe Penn State comes out focused and ready to build on the momentum of a strong second half against the Buckeyes. The offense will begin to settle in under new OC Kirk Ciarrocca in a game reminiscent of the 2016 between the Nittany Lions and Terps when Penn State noticeably turned a corner.

Sean Clifford looks crisp, passing for 275 yards with two touchdown tosses, and most importantly, no turnovers. Jahan Dotson proves he’s here to stay with another standout performance, catching six passes for 118 yards and a touchdown. Caziah Holmes makes his first-highlight reel play as Penn State’s new #26 on a 30-yard touchdown run.

On defense, Jesse Luketa makes up for lost time by leading the team with 11 tackles and a forced fumble, while Joey Porter Jr. earns his first interception.

The good guys pull ahead early in the second half as Nittany Lions fans everywhere breath a sigh of relief and finally start to look forward in a young season that can still be salvaged.