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Game Preview: No. 11 Penn State at Maryland

The Nittany Lions hit the road against a wounded but dangerous Terps squad.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The Nittany Lions head to Maryland to face a team desperate to end a three-game losing skid.

No. 11 Penn State (7-1, 4-1) vs. Maryland (5-3, 2-3)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., SECU Stadium, College Park, MD

The Betting Line: Penn State -8 (Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.)

TV: FOX, 3:30 p.m. - Jason Benetti (play-by-play), Brock Huard (analyst), Allison Williams (sideline)

Weather: A cool but sunny day with a high of 55 and little chance of rain.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 85-37, 10th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 109-52, 13th Year

VS. MARYLAND: 7-2

Mike Locksley:

MARYLAND RECORD: 26-31, 5th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 28-57, 9th Year

VS. PENN STATE: 1-3

FUN FACTS

Penn State leads the all-time series 42-3-1 over Maryland...the Nittany Lions defense has held its last seven opponents under 100 yards rushing...before throwing an interception in the fourth quarter against Indiana, Drew Allar had thrown 311 passes before his first career interception, an NCAA record...this will be the fifth time Penn State and Maryland have played a game on Nov. 4, with Penn State holding a 4-1 advantage...Penn State is 9-8 all-time in games played on Nov. 4.

MARYLAND OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is back for his third-year as the team’s starting quarterback, and is in his fifth year after initially enrolling at Alabama in 2019. By this point you know what you’re getting - a solid college quarterback who can make big plays but also mistakes. Tagovailoa is completing 63.9% of passes this year, with 19 touchdowns and six interceptions. He is averaging 275 yards through the air per game.

Tagovailoa has also been under much more pressure during the Terps’ current three-game losing streak. He was only sacked three times during the teams 5-0 start, but has been brought down 11 times during the past three games, including six sacks by Northwestern in Saturday’s 33-27 loss to the Wildcats.

Tagovailoa does an excellent job of keeping defenses honest by spreading the ball around, as five passcatchers have 24 or more receptions on the year. Senior Jeshaun Jones leads the way with 36 grabs following his nine-catch performance against Northwestern on Saturday. Kaden Prather, a big 6’4”, 212 lb. target is right behind him with 30 catches for 426 yards, and leads the team with five touchdown receptions. Tagovailoa looks to his tight end Corey Dyches frequently as well, who will look to replicate the success that Ohio State’s Cade Stover had against the Penn State defense as he came up with several cluth catches over the middle.

Running back Roman Hemby is a playmaker who is also a major contributor out of the backfield as well. He has an impressive 5.0 yard per carry average on the season, as well as 24 catches for 221 yards through the air, including a 24-yard touchdown catch against Northwestern. Sophomore Antwain Littleton II has also become a larger part of the running game, although he struggled with just seven yards on four carries a week ago.

Penn State’s defense is coming off its only poor performance of the season against Indiana. The Hoosiers were able to exploit several blown coverages to create explosive plays, but more importantly, found success moving the ball on first and second downs to create manageable third downs. This prevented Penn State from creating third-and-long situations that have helped them shut down offenses throguhout the first half of the season. We’ll see if the Terps are able to replicate the Hoosiers success, or if Penn State can make adjustments and prove last week’s performance was more of a letdown following the loss to Ohio State, rather than a trend that will continue the remainder of the year.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. MARYLAND DEFENSE

The Terps have made some major progress on defense, starting upfront. Maryland has a talented defensive line that excels at stopping the run and making plays in the backfield. The Terps are allowing just 109.2 rushing yards per game, while averaging six TFLs and 3.25 sacks, which puts them 12th nationally.

This could be bad news for a Penn State offense that has built an identity of methodically moving down the field. One sack or tackle in the backfield can easily wreck an entire drive. The offense will likely also have to rely heavily on Drew Allar as well, considering Maryland’s ability to shut down the ground game.

This will bring up the question we’ve all been asking for the past nine weeks — can the Penn State offense create explosive plays? They will likely need to rely on a few this week to put some points on the scoreboard, as Maryland’s disruptive front seven does a great job of creating third-and-long scenarios.

Defensive end Donnell Brown has been on a tear lately, getting a sack in each of the last three games. The linebackers have been especially disruptive, as Kellen Wyatt leads the team with 3.5 sacks, 3 quarterback hurries and 5.5 TFLs, while Fa’Najae Gotay and Caleb Wheatland each have 2.5 sacks and 4.5 TFLs. Tarheeb Still returned to action last week after missing the two previous games, yet still leads the team with three interceptions.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Maryland kicker Jack Howes is just nine-of-fifteen on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 48 yards. He is four-of-nine from beyond 40 yards, suggesting the Terps may roll the dice on fourth downs rather than settling for a field goal from that range. Punter Colton Spangler holds an impressive 43.03 yards per punt with a long of 54 yards, and more than half of his attempts have been downwed inside the 20.

The Terps have a couple dangerous returners in Jeshaun Jones and Braeden Wisloski, who had a 98-yard touchdown return on a kickoff against Virginia in week three.

PREDICTION

Penn State-27, Maryland-20

We typically know what to expect by the first weekend of November, but this game has the feel of trying to predict an early-season game. Penn State is coming off a disappointing loss to Ohio State, following with their worst overall performance of the season in a late victory over Indiana. Maryland is in a similar spot — the Terps got off to a 5-0 start before consecutive losses to Ohio State, Illinois and Northwestern.

Something about the intangibles of this game give me an uneasy feeling — the way Maryland’s defensive front seems to match up well with the Penn State offense, Drew Allar’s lack of touch on the road, the injuries that have piled up over the last two weeks causing uncertainty with the lineup. Plus, it’s hard to tell which version of either team will show up on Saturday afternoon.

I’ll go with my optimistic side and trust the defense to clean things up from last week and force enough three and outs and turnovers to get the job done, and that we see a more mature version Allar following his 57-yard go-ahead touchdown in the closing moments of last week’s victory over the Hoosiers. Penn State comes out on top in a tight contest for the second week in a row.