PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS AT MARYLAND TERRAPINS
We have our first Friday night Big Ten matchup of the season with Penn State visiting Maryland. For this preview we will break down the matchups by position and tell you how we see this game playing out. Both teams for this matchup are coming off bye weeks and Maryland has declared this game a blackout game and added additional seating in anticipation of a big home crowd. This is the first conference game of the season for both teams and should give us a better idea of what each team is this year.
Sean Clifford has looked pretty good in his first stint as a college Quarterback but the offense has stalled out a few times this year. The offense seems to be most effective when Clifford gets their Tight End Pat Freiermuth involved which in turn opens things up for their dynamic receiver KJ Hamler. While Clifford has been tasked with the impossible task of replacing Trace McSorley, he has looked like he can handle the ups and downs of a game. This will be a new experience for him as this is his first road start and from the sounds of it the crowd will be a factor.
Josh Jackson is the most talented Quarterback that Maryland has had in a couple of years. After two dominating displays against Howard and a ranked Syracuse team, Jackson struggled against Temple the last time out. He completed less than half of his passes and only threw for 183 yards. This game will come down to whether we get the Josh Jackson of the first two games or the Temple version. Jackson has the arm talent to make all of the throws and a running game to compliment his strengths.
ADVANTAGE: PENN STATE–Sean Clifford has been more accurate this season and adds the ability to run when the play breaks down
Penn State uses a stable of backs where four different running backs rotate throughout the game. The Nittany Lions tend to ride the hot hand whether it be Journey Brown, Devyn Ford, Noah Cain, or Ricky Slade. This running back committee keeps the backfield fresh and anyone of these backs can break a long one at any moment. They also use the running backs in the passing game which has been some of their better plays
Maryland uses Anthony McFarland Jr. as their workhorse back and while he hasn’t been the most explosive runner out of this backfield he is the most reliable. McFarland has reached the end zone five times already this season and is the go to option in the red zone. Javon Leake and Jake Funk are both averaging over ten yards a carry and have most of the explosive plays from this position group. Maryland haven’t really used the backs a whole lot in the pass game so far this year and tend to use them to sure up protection.
ADVANTAGE: MARYLAND–Maryland averages over 80 more yards rushing a game than Penn State and seem more committed to it than the Nittany Lions
WIDE RECEIVER/TIGHT END
Penn State has one of the most explosive players at Wide Receiver with KJ Hamler and he is always a focal point of the passing game. They also have one of the top Tight Ends in the Big Ten with Pat Freiermuth who is a giant target for Sean Clifford. The offense really seems to click when Freiermuth is looked at as the first option and opens up the rest of the field for Hamler. Young receivers Jahan Dotson and Justin Shorter are both starting to find their roles in the offense and Dotson is becoming the third option in the passing game while Shorter is probably the most talented of the bunch.
While the Terrapins lack a true go to receiver, Maryland will spread the ball around. Dontay Demus Jr. is the leading receiver and boasts the most explosive play capability. The Tight End Tyler Mabry is the preferred target in the red zone and he leads the team with three touchdowns. The Terrapins don’t use the Running Back in the receiving game as much as Penn State but with the Nittany Lions struggling against screen passes, I wouldn’t be surprised if it finds its way into the game plan.
ADVANTAGE: PENN STATE–The Nittany Lions are just more explosive and athletic on the edges and tend to bust more big plays. The key to this game is how involved KJ Hamler is and how effective he is against the Maryland defense.
The Penn State offensive line had struggled at times this year and have surrendered six sacks in three games. Where the opportunity for improvement lies with this group is in the running game. While the Nittany Lions are averaging 5.7 yards a carry that is mainly aided by three long runs. You take away those runs the average drops to a pedestrian 3.8 yards a carry and the Running Backs have not been able to find much room. This was regarded as one of the best lines Penn State has had under Coach James Franklin it has yet to live up to it.
Maryland’s offensive line has been pretty solid so far this season. They have given up five sacks but the Terrapins are averaging 6 yards a carry without many big runs. Maryland as rushed for 12 rushing touchdowns in the three games that they have played and they will have their hands full with Penn States defensive line. If Maryland can establish the running game and control the tempo the Terrapins should have a chance in this game.
ADVANTAGE: MARYLAND–I give Maryland the slight edge in this position match-up as they have looked just a little bit better so far this season. As you could say for most games, whichever offensive line plays better should have the upper hand tonight.
The Penn State defensive line is one of the best in the country and is led by Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney. Both are commonly in the backfield and are creating havoc. Robert Windsor is solid in the middle of the line and has been instrumental in Penn States superb rushing defense. The line can struggle to create pressure in four man rushes at times but that has yet to really effect the outcome of the game.
Maryland has a stout rush defense just like Penn State and that is mainly due to the defensive line. Where the defensive line does struggle is creating pressure in the passing game. Maryland has 13 sacks but only 4.5 of them are from the defensive line. Sam Okuayinonu is probably the best player on the line for Maryland with 7 tackles but only 1 sack and will need to be in the backfield for the Terrapins to be successful.
ADVANTAGE: PENN STATE–The Penn State defensive line is just better at being behind the line of scrimmage and can make your offense one dimensional. This is probably the best offensive line that they have faced but they should have the advantage here.
Penn State features one of the best linebackers in the country with Micah Parsons who, in his Sophomore season is now the clear leader of the defense. The Nittany Lions also feature Cam Brown and Jan Johnson at the position and both like to fly sideline to sideline. This group isn’t asked to rush the Quarterback much, but when they were asked to against Pittsburgh they really didn’t get to him much.
Maryland’s Linebackers are really good at being in the backfield and stopping the run. This group is also better at rushing the passer than Penn States, but it is also more schemed that way as the defensive line doesn’t create a ton of pressure. Keandre Jones has been the best linebacker for this team so far and leads the team with 3.5 sacks and will be asked to get after Clifford tonight.
ADVANTAGE: PENN STATE–This group is hard to give an edge either way because each team uses their linebackers differently. I give the edge to Penn State because the group is more talented and work really well together.
The secondary for Penn State has only forced two turnovers and both of those were by Cornerback John Reid. They have broken up fourteen passes though and are integral to turning the running game back inside. Garrett Taylor and Tariq Castro-Fields have combined 32 tackles so far this season and are usually in most plays. The Nittany Lions have shown some vulnerability in man coverage and we will have to see if Maryland exploits this.
Maryland has also struggled to force turnovers from the secondary position group with only one interception and one forced fumble. Antoine Brooks Jr. is the leading tackler on the team with 25 and likes to play near the line of scrimmage. The secondary is holding opponents to only 224 yards through the air and they keep everything in front of them to limit big plays.
ADVANTAGE: MARYLAND–Maryland gets the advantage as they have been a little better in coverage and they help more in the running game as well. The Terrapins haven’t faced receivers as talented as Penn States yet but should be able to hold their own.
PENN STATE–4 Advantages
This game could really go either way as we have seen both teams look really good and not so good early in the season. Maryland Stadium is going to be rocking as it is sold out and fans are participating in a blackout. This is the first road game of the year for Penn State so it will be interesting to see how they perform in this environment. Penn State has more explosive players but Maryland has been very good at limiting big plays. This game will be close all game and will come down to whichever team can make a big play in the fourth quarter. Final Score: Penn State-27 Maryland-24