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Penn State at Maryland: Game Preview

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One team will gain bowl eligibility, one team will continue its skid.

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

Penn State is in desperate need of a win to get the season back on track.

#22 Penn State (5-3, 2-3) vs. Maryland (5-3, 2-3)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Capital One Field, College Park, MD

The Betting Line: Penn State -11 (Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.)

TV: FS1 - Dan Hellie (play-by-play), Petros Papadakis (analyst)

Weather: A chilly but comfortable afternoon for football with temps in the low 50s/upper 40s with a mixture of sunshine and clouds, with little chance of precipitation.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 65-31, 8th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 88-46, 11th Year

VS. MARYLAND: 5-2

Mike Locksley:

MARYLAND RECORD: 11-20, 3rd Year

OVERALL RECORD: 13-46, 6th Year

VS. PENN STATE: 1-2

FUN FACTS

Penn State and Maryland will be meeting for the 45th time in series history, with the Nittany Lions holding a commanding 40-3-1 advantage...Penn State has played on Nov. 6 on 16 occasions, and half of those games have been shutouts...the first seven Penn State games played on Nov. 6 (1893-1948) resulted in a shutout, with Penn State allowing no points on five occasions, and being shut out on the other two...Penn State has played Maryland one time on Nov. 6, with the Nittany Lions coming out on top 63-27 in 1971.

MARYLAND OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

Taulia Tagovailo has brought some much-needed playmaking ability and consistency at quarterback for the Terps, who have long been snakebitten at the position. He’s having an impressive season on paper - completing 70.1 percent of passes with 17 touchdown strikes. However, he has struggled against the better defenses on the schedule thus far. Tagovailo had an especially brutal outing against Iowa, with five interceptions and season lows in both completion percentage (55%) and passing yards (157). While Tagovailo is mobile in the pocket, he doesn’t rarely venture outside of it, with just two games with more than 10 yards rushing, and a season-high of just 25 yards.

Maryland has standout dup at wide receiver with Rakim Jarett and Dontay Demus Jr. (ed. note - Demus is listed as active on several sites, but is out for the season and will not play on Saturday) You may especially remember Jarrett after he scorched Penn State’s secondary for 144 yards and two scores as a true freshman in 2020. He leads the team with 31 receptions and five receiving scores, and is coming off an 88-yard performance against Indiana. Demus is listed as active after not playing since Oct. 1, and will give the Terps offense a significant boost if he can take the field. At 6-3, 217 lb., Demus has the quickness and shiftiness of a receiver you would expect under 6’. He had at least 108 receiving yards of three of the five games he’s played this season, and is averaging 102.4 receiving yards in those contests. There’s also Carlos Carriere, who is not as frequently targeted as Jarett and Demus, but is a popular red zone target thanks to his 6-5 frame. He is coming off by far the biggest of his career, with eight catches for 134 yards and two scores in the Terps 38-35 thriller against Indiana.

The Terps mostly rely on Tagovailo’s arm and its talented passcatchers. The run game ranks 102nd nationally at just 121.9 yards per game as a team (Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker is averaging 149.25 on his own). Tayon Fleet-Davis is the main ballcarrier, and while he is averaging 5.1 yards per carry on the season, he is only averaging two yards per rush over the last three games.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. MARYLAND DEFENSE

The strength of the Maryland defense are its safeties that do an outstanding job of patrolling the entire field, as well as two athletic defensive tackles who can make plays from the trenches.

Former Penn State target Nick Cross has developed into the leader of the Terps defense, leading the team in tackles and interceptions. He’s picked off two of the team’s four total interceptions in 2021. His counterpart at safety, Jordan Mosley is the second-leading tackler, although it isn’t typically a great sign for the defense to have both safeties leading the team in tackles.

Defensive tackle Sam Okuayinonu will cause disruptions on Saturday. He does an excellent job of getting his nearly 300 lb. into the backfield to end plays before getting off the ground. He has five sacks and 7.5 TFLs, as well as 20 solo tackles. Mosiah Nasili-Kite is also a disruptive force, with four sacks coming from the interior.

After a solid start to the season, Maryland has given up an average of 46.5 points in its last four games, which were against Iowa, Ohio State, Minnesota and Indiana.

Penn State’s offense received a major boost when a seemingly-healthy Sean Clifford returned to action after being severely limited by an injury the prior week against Illinois. Clifford managed to set a Penn State single-game record with 35 completions, and had a mostly standout performance against the Buckeyes defense. A healthy Clifford bodes well for the Nittany Lions against the Terps defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Maryland kicker Joseph Petrino is 10-of-14 on field goals for the season, with three of the misses being attempts of 40-plus yard. His long for the season is 48 yards, and missed his only attempt of 50-plus yards. The Terps rotate between two talented punters – Anthony Pecorella boasts a 46.0 yard per punt average, while Colton Spangler comes in at 45.4 yards. Petrino also handles kickoff duty, with 11 touchbacks on 41 attempts.

PREDICTION

Penn State-31, Maryland-17

This could turn out to be a very competitive game, as Maryland will be fighting for bowl eligibility and will bring its best with the Nittany Lions coming to town. But something tells me that despite the loss, Penn State reset itself and regained its confidence in Columbus on Saturday night. We’ll see the grittiness that defined the season prior to the Illinois debacle, and use this game as a springboard for a challenging and meaningful November.

There’s little mystery to each team’s gameplan, as both offenses will rely on the passing game to get points on the scoreboard. While Maryland certainly has some talent in that department, I’ll take the Nittany Lions secondary over the Maryland secondary any day of the week.

Sean Clifford appears back to his normal self, throwing for 310 yards and three scores - one each to his favorite targets of Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith. On defense, Arnold Ebiketie stays in Tagovailo’s face all day, finishing with 2.5 sacks, while Ellis Brooks leads the way with 11 tackles as Jaquan Brisker and Joey Porter Jr. each get an interception.

Let’s do this.