Game Preview: Penn State vs. Maryland

Story posted November 6, 2020 in Sports, CommRadio by Zach Donaldson

The Penn State Nittany Lions (0-2) host the Maryland Terrapins (1-1) on Saturday afternoon and will be looking for a fresh start.

With last week’s loss at the hands of Ohio State, Penn State remains winless and is not ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2016. Maryland escaped a shootout last week against the struggling Minnesota Golden Gophers, 45-44 picking up its first win of the season.

This matchup has been completely one-sided in Penn State’s favor – recently and historically. The Nittany Lions hold a 40-2 advantage over the Terps all-time, and it seems like Penn State fans will forever cling on to the 59-0 embarrassment of Maryland and raid of its student section last year.

On Saturday however, it will be difficult for Penn State to replicate the notorious throttling as this year Maryland boasts a much better squad.

Let’s take a look at some of this week’s key matchups and keys to the game for each team.

The first two weeks of the season are in the books, and Penn State finds itself sitting at 0-2 for the first time since 2012. An up and down performance may be the best way to describe the Nittany Lions' season thus far.

Penn State's new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense has showed flashes in the Nittany Lions' first two games, however it's also struggled at times. A large part of the reason is because Penn State's offense has failed to establish the run.

The absence of running backs Journey Brown and Noah Cain has undoubtedly been a difficult blow for the team to withstand. Nonetheless, Devyn Ford, Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes are all talented players with unique skill sets who can still be productive out of the backfield. Sean Clifford has even proved that he can be effective in the run game as well.

This Saturday, they’re going to be facing a Maryland defense that was gashed for 325 yards and four touchdowns on 53 carries in their season opener against Northwestern. Then last weekend, Minnesota ran all over the Terps, carrying the ball 50 times for 262 yards and five touchdowns. Running back Mohamed Ibrahim contributed 41 carries for 207 yards and four touchdowns to those staggering numbers.

Maryland has exhibited a vulnerable run defense, and it would be in Penn State’s best interest to take advantage of it, especially considering Ciarrocca’s offense has shown that it almost depends on it. Expect Ford, Lee and Holmes to be heavily involved in the offense this upcoming Saturday. The Nittany Lions' offensive line has been inconsistent to start the season, but in this matchup, they're going to need help out the tailbacks by providing push up front and opening up holes.

On the defensive side of the ball for the Nittany Lions, there's a simple formula for success: win the battle in the trenches. Not only by applying pressure up front, but at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa is on the smaller side, so look for the front of the Nittany Lions to bat down some balls on the line of scrimmage as well.

It all starts up front. Containing Tagovailoa and his counterpart in the backfield, senior running back Jake Funk is easier said than done, but also a relatively straightforward approach for the defense coming into this game.

With Tagovailoa, Penn State will be facing its third dynamic dual threat under center in three weeks. He isn’t on the elite level that Justin Fields is, although they both present similar challenges in the air and on the ground.

After a rough debut, Tagovailoa bounced back and showed what he’s capable of last week versus Minnesota, amassing 458 total yards and five combined touchdowns. He wasn’t alone on offense, as Funk led the rushing attack turning his 21 touches into 221 yards and one touchdown.

With the dangerous duo of wide receivers Dontay Demus and Jeshaun Jones on the outside, Maryland’s offense has the ability to beat you in multiple different ways.

Through the first two weeks, Penn State’s offense has also shown an assortment of ways to beat you on offense. But the array of opportunity for the offense can’t be unlocked unless the run is established.

Despite the fact that the Terps have shown more of a tendency to allow the run than to stop it, it’s going to be crucial that they find somehow, some way to throw this Penn State offense off.

It could start with junior linebacker, Chance Campbell. Campbell has started off the season blazing hot and has been a tackling machine for Maryland’s defense. He currently leads the Big Ten in tackles with 27.

So far this season, Campbell’s success hasn’t translated into much team success. But with a player of his caliber facing a Penn State offense that’s experiencing growing pains, it could be something to keep an eye on.

Penn State is desperate for a win to keep its New Year’s Six chances alive, while a Maryland upset would be enormous for the program.

Penn State may be 0-2, but they are still a much better football team. The Nittany Lions should take care of the Terps handily.

Prediction: Penn State 38, Maryland 17

 

Zach Donaldson is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email zach.donaldson1@gmail.com.