Every time this game has come up since Maryland joined the Big Ten for the 2014 season, we’re had to hear the question asked, “Is Maryland Penn State’s rival?” You know what they say: If you have to ask, you’ll never know. So we didn’t ask about that particular issue. Instead, Thomas Kendziora of Testudo Times talked to us about the expectations for Maryland in this game as well as which Terrapins we can expect to make the big plays in Saturday’s meeting.
Black Shoe Diaries: Maryland is undefeated in four games and starting to receive votes in the Associated Press and Coaches Polls. However, the team hasn’t played the stiffest of competition so far. Are the fans excited about this group of Terps, or are they just waiting for the other shoe to drop? How will a win over Penn State change the national perception of this team?
Testudo Times: The fans are definitely excited. Many of the same people that thought the Terps would struggle to reach a bowl game are now talking themselves into this being a seven- or eight-win team, and that's all thanks to D.J. Durkin. He came in with so much energy, hired a promising staff, and recruited well from the onset, and to back it up with a 4-0 start is impressive. Maryland was supposed to win all of those games, sure, but now that they've actually done it, things are looking really promising. A road win over Penn State would nullify the "ain't played nobody" argument that still holds some credibility, and it would bring the team to 5-0, so it's a huge week for the Terps.
BSD: The Terps have sported a bonkers rushing attack that averages 6.5 yards per carry as a team. Five different backs have more than 100 yards rushing, but it looks like sophomore Ty Johnson is the most dangerous after his outstanding performance against Purdue. Is that the right impression, or do you think that outburst was more of a fluke?
TT: Ty Johnson is the real deal. He was fast when he came to College Park last year, but since then he's gained 30 pounds and become a more well-rounded back. He still has the explosiveness, though, and he always seems like he's one or two broken tackles from making a big play. He was able to escape and make those plays against Purdue, which wasn't surprising. He's Maryland's most dangerous back, but all the others add something a little different. Lorenzo Harrison is smaller and more slippery, Wes Brown is a bit more of a power back, and there are still three other guys (Trey Edmunds, Kenny Goins, Jake Funk) that will get touches out of the backfield.
BSD: Last year Perry Hills completed half of his passes and threw for more interceptions than touchdowns, but in 2016 he’s been much more efficient with 7.5 yards per attempt, five touchdowns, and just one interception. Is the senior signal caller much improved this year, or will the performance regress once he starts playing some of the Big Ten’s tougher defenses?
TT: Both are probably true. Walt Bell simplified the offense in the offseason and made Hills' job way easier. He's throwing mostly short, high-percentage passes, and when he gets in trouble he's throwing it away (last year he would try to force something in those situations). As the opponents get better and the game speeds up, there will naturally be more blemishes. Some throws that would have been caught will be broken up, and balls that would be broken up might be picked off. But that's just how football works.
BSD: Jesse Aniebonam leads Maryland in both sacks (four) and tackles for loss (seven). What is it that makes the junior pass rusher so dangerous?
TT: Aniebonam is a pretty textbook buck, which mean's he's a hybrid between a 4-3 defensive end and a 3-4 outside linebacker. He's big and fast and has good technique; it probably helps his case that he spent two years learning from the likes of Yannick Ngakoue and Quinton Jefferson.
BSD: Maryland is one of the best defenses in the Big Ten when it comes to yards per rush and yards per pass allowed. Who else besides Aniebonam and Will Likely has made the unit so effective?
TT: Linebacker Jermaine Carter is really the best all-around player on Maryland's defense. He's got 28 total tackles, three sacks and four tackles for loss. He also had a pick-six against FIU. Carter actually led the Terps with 4.5 tackles against Penn State last year, and he'll probably be all over the place once again on Saturday.
BSD: Maryland is favored by one-and-a-half points on Saturday. How do you see the game going for the Terps?
TT: I expect Maryland to be aggressive and physical early on. If the Terps can avoid turnovers and keep the explosive-play battle close, I think they have a great chance of walking away with the win. If they get down early, however, that throws a new wrench into this, because they've never trailed by more than three points all year. I can assure you that Durkin will have them playing hard all afternoon long.
Thanks again to Thomas for taking the time to answer our questions. Remember to keep reading Testudo Times to stay up to date on Maryland Football all season long.