Rivalry Renewed: Maryland vs. Penn State

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Maryland takes on Penn State Nov. 1 at 12 p.m. in State College, Pa.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Even though Randy Edsall grew up in Pennsylvania, he is quick to point out it was Western Pennsylvania (York) and he was a Terrapins fan through and through.

“I was always a Maryland fan because where I grew up I was closer to Maryland,” he said. “I wasn’t a Penn State fan. As a kid, I never went to a game in Beaver Stadium.”

Edsall will get his chance to wear his Terrapin gear into the Nittany Lions’ Beaver Stadium this Saturday when Penn State hosts Maryland at noon in the renewal of a football rivalry dormant since 1993. When Maryland’s move to the Big Ten was announced this was a game many fans looked forward to, border rivals tangling again for the first time in 21 years.

“It’s something we take pride in though some of us weren’t even born yet,” said Maryland senior nose tackle Darius Kilgo. “To have the opportunity to make something happen for this school and the tradition to come. They say this is supposed to be a rivalry so we just want to start it off the right way with a win.”

And that possibility would be truly special on a couple of fronts. First, the Terrapins (5-3 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) are one victory shy of bowl eligibility with six triumphs this season. Second, you can’t even say Maryland wins in the series with once perennial powerhouse Penn State are few and far between because there is no between. Maryland has come away with a victory just once and trails the all-time series with the Nittany Lions 1-35-1.

“State College (Pa.) hasn’t been a place that has been very friendly to the University of Maryland over the years,” understated Edsall Tuesday

It’s something Edsall broached with his team this past weekend when there already wasn’t much good news to go around in the Gossett Team House after Saturday’s 52-7 setback at Wisconsin.

“We heard about it, what is it? One-and-35 or something?” asked offensive tackle Michael Dunn. “It’s definitely not a very good record for us but it’s a new time and a new era. We’re definitely hoping to change some things.”

Moving On

First Maryland hopes to continue to move away from the Badger beat-down where Wisconsin dominated in every phase of the game. Edsall was reticent to talk about that one even on Sunday in a conference call specifically designed for just that purpose each week. He didn’t have lot more to say Tuesday at the Maryland football media luncheon.

“We graded the film as coaches and (the team) didn’t watch any of the film, we moved on,” he said. “When things like that happen, to me, my experience has always been that it’s always better to put it behind you and move on, which is what we did.”

Many Maryland players were at a loss, too, to explain exactly what happened at Wisconsin.

“It was very surprising,” said tailback Brandon Ross. “I think over the course of every game there are always one or two plays that turn a game. We feel it could have been a close game, a dogfight but there were certain plays we didn’t execute or we did the worst possible thing, we turned the ball over. You turn the ball over against a team like that that can score it’s never a good deal.”

“It was a tough pill to swallow,” said Kilgo. “But the only thing we can do is move forward. As a team we just want to show that we can bounce back from a tough loss.”

The Badgers bullied Maryland into a season-low 175 yards and a lot of that came on the final and only Terrapin scoring drive. Maryland made mistakes – seven penalties, a fumble, fooled on a fake punt and just generally getting manhandled up front.

It’s all correctable, said Edsall in a familiar refrain.

Ross, who was held to six yards on seven rushes, part of a season low 46 rushing yards for Maryland, was more specific. “We have to play lower. When you play against a Big Ten team, teams where the lines are bigger, it’s not necessarily the plays that are called or the schemes or anything like that, it’s just we have to play lower (to create leverage) and use our hands better. As running backs, when we see a hole we just have to hit it quickly.”

Likewise, Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown thought the Terrapins were their own worst enemy on offense recently. “It’s not hurting ourselves, I know that sounds old but that’s been our Achilles’ heel. There haven’t been a lot of teams that have hurt us on offense. It has been us making mistakes, turnovers, just not executing.”

Brown was on target in that assessment. Prior to Wisconsin, Maryland had scored at least 24 points in every game, and was coming off an impressive 38-31 victory over Iowa. Brown, now with the QB job all to himself, wasn’t as on target passing Saturday, hitting just 13 of 29 in Camp Randall Stadium, and he acknowledged he has to step up his game.

“I have to give our receivers a chance,” he said.

Stefon Diggs, Maryland’s most dangerous weapon had just one catch (keeping alive his streak of 26 consecutive games with at least one reception) but it was a dandy, a 21-yard touchdown. Look for him to be targeted more frequently this week.

Defenses have worked hard recently to take away Brown’s bread and butter in the option attack, and the big plays on the quick-hit screens haven’t been there either. It’s all the more important for Brown to make plays in the passing game to get defenders out of the box and jump-start the running attack. That’s key, said one of those running backs.

“Soon as we get the running game going, it’s going to open up everything,” said Ross.

Big Crowd, Big Challenge

But that’s not going to be easy going into Beaver Stadium Saturday where over 106,000 fans (more than twice as many as Byrd Stadium seats) and one of the Big Ten’s best defenses await. The Nittany Lions (4-3, 1-3) are looking to snap a three-game losing streak and are coming off giving No. 13 Ohio State all the Buckeyes wanted in a 31-24 win in Happy Valley.

“They played a tough game and I thought the crowd (107,895) kept them in it,” said Brown, who like many Terps watched that OSU-PSU game on television. “I think the crowd helped out, especially being a night game.”

Maryland won’t have to contend with nocturnal Nittany Lions but there’s lots to worry about. Penn State is second in the conference in scoring defense (17.4 ppg allowed) and third in total defense (284.7 yards). Their rush defense (83.4) is tops in the Big Ten.

“They’re fundamentally sound, they’re a tough bunch,” added Brown. “They have a great D-line and their linebackers are solid. They’ve got pretty good experience in the secondary to bring a lot of pressure. We just have to be on the same page and able to handle it, and make sure we handle our reads.”

The Penn State defense has some star power in defensive backs Jordan Lucas and Adrian Amos, who Edsall recruited at UConn; defensive end Deion Barnes and linebacker Mike Hull. Hull had a career high 19 tackles against Ohio State.

“They have good players,” said Edsall when asked about what makes the Nittany Lions so tough. “I think it starts with Mike Hull in the middle. That guy is all over the place. That guy is a tremendous football player. He makes a ton of tackles. He’s a leader for them.”

Offensively, Penn State has struggled to mount a running game and that has put more pressure on sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who leads the Big Ten in passing yardage (265.9 per game) and is third in total offense (262.0).

“From a throwing standpoint, from a leadership standpoint, I think he’ll be the best we’ve seen,” said Edsall, who once recruited Hackenberg’s father. “He’s big. He’s strong. He can make every throw that you want a quarterback to make.”

Kilgo said that defensively the game boils down to harassing Hackenberg. “One thing we rally want to focus on is being able to stop the quarterback. He’s a really good quarterback and we can’t allow him to stay in the pocket and make throws to their explosive players in space. That can really hurt us. We want to be able to put pressure on the quarterback.”

Teams that have beaten Penn State have done just that, and harried Hackenberg into nine interceptions so far (against six touchdown passes). Turnovers could help the Terrapins in that hostile environment – and not just a large crowd but cold weather temperatures expected to be in the 40s with 20 mile-per-hour winds.

The Terrapins want to bring the heat in more ways than one. Maryland is tied for third in the conference with 21 sacks so far this season, a strong suit for a defense that has struggled in recent weeks. Thirteen sacks in conference plays leads the Big Ten. Defensive end Andre Monroe is the Terps’ sack leader with 6.5, and now has 21 in his career after notching one at Wisconsin.

Yannick Ngakoue is another Terrapin terror. His 10.5 tackles for loss are second in the loop, and have allowed coaches to move Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil to the other side at linebacker to replace injured Matt Robinson.

Penn State coach James Franklin, who once called plays for the Terrapins under Ralph Friedgen, and was at one time set to be Maryland’s head coach, will be looking for weaknesses in the Terrapin defense. It’s one of many connections between the two programs that may help escalate the rivalry quickly.

Thirteen Terrapins are from Pennsylvania and nine Nittany Lions are from Maryland. Edsall was dead on, though, when he said the onus was on Maryland to make this a true rivalry.

“You’ve got to win to have any kind of rivalry,” he said. “And that’s the thing we haven’t done here at the University of Maryland. Most of our guys weren’t even born yet when they played the last time. We’ll get to play them now on a yearly basis and what we have to do is to continue to get better. If you’re going to make any kind of series a rival, there has to be wins on our side to be able to make that happen.”

His players already have a sense of that need, and are warming to the task.

“This is one of those that you really want to get,” said Kilgo.

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