COLLEGE PARK, Md, -- The pickings have been slim of late -- Terps football player-interviews during game week -- as the stakes get higher on the season each week.
Before the Wisconsin game only quarterback C.J. Brown was brought to the Wednesday (and final day of game-week interviews) media availability pre-Badgers, and before Penn State Nov. 1 only one Terp was presented.
But there was a glimmer of hope when it was learned it would be senior center, and Clarks Summit, Pa., native Sal Conaboy, one of 12 Keystone State products on the Maryland roster with Penn State week fast upon them.
Furthering some optimism was the fact Conaboy's -- a three-year starter and Terrapin Council leadership committee member -- father was a Penn State alum. The game and series is full of sidebars on top of sidebars, both on and off the field, but for the players it's mostly unknown territory as most weren't born the last time the two schools met. So any "color" this week would be good.
But that glimmer of hope was dashed a bit when it was learned Conaboy's father, Conan, did not attend the State College campus, but a satellite one when he went back to school and got his nursing degree later in life. And good news for Terps fans, pops Conaboy has long been a Terps fan, and there's no Nittany Lions memorabilia hanging from the walls of the family den, nor weekend's spent tailgating at Beaver Stadium.
"That's more my cousins," Sal Conaboy said. "Two of my cousins went to Penn State, their households are full of Penn State, some of them have season tickets. But that's about it."
Either way, you won't find a better Terp than Sal Conaboy to give the pulse of the team as its hits a pivotal stretch of the season. And one in search of another win to qualify for the post-season, yet one haunted by last week's meltdown at Wisconsin to bring the 5-3 program, still in search of an identity in ways, down to earth some.
Conaboy, a Rimington Trophy preseason watch-list member, knows it must begin this week with more blitz protection for star-crossed senior quarterback C.J. Brown against the Big Ten's top defense, as well as finally establishing a semblance of a run game, which has been an issue ever since the opener. Maryland's two backs -- Brandon Ross and Wes Brown -- through eight games have just a meager 257 yards apiece, while opponents have begun to take away C.J. Brown's option game. Penn State yields just 2.4 yards per carry and 17.4 points per game to opponents, and will likely be in a frenzy after dropping three straight including a double-overtime setback to No. 20 Ohio State Oct. 25 at Beaver Stadium.
The Maryland offense needs to do something emphatic, and early, and ideal would be establishing a ground game so they can get back to some play-action, some option, and then maybe take some deep shots to their playmakers like Stefon Diggs and Deon Long downfield.
Back in the day, Conaboy heard from PSU, took in a spring game, and was recruited but not offered by the Nittany Lions, choosing Maryland over Pitt and others. His cousins attended the school, but it ends there.
"Penn State is big up there," Conaboy said. "Definitely Penn State country. Every time I go back home I got to hear about it, I got to see all the Penn State stickers on the cars. So it will be good to go up there and play them. Everyone is excited, I got a big clan coming down, so it will be fun for everyone."
Growing up, Conaboy was more of a Philadelphia Eagles fan, not so much one of the college game.
This week, heading back home, he said he looks forward to the possible dicey winter weather, which some forecasts are calling for by kickoff, as he described those as "fun for offensive linemen." On the ground, Conaboy said execution and focus has lacked in some games, though not all, "and it's time to change that."
"They are aggressive, they are going to play physical," Conaboy said of the PSU defense. "It's a good chance to go against a good defense and show what we got, and bounce back from last week. So everyone's pretty excited."
Conaboy scouted some of the PSU-OSU game after-the-fact, as he said he was too tired after the Wisconsin letdown to watch it live that night. He said the team quickly put the Wisconsin loss in the rear-view mirror, and the players picked up the intensity this week in practice and feel extra motivation because of all of the factors. He said last week's game "was not who we are" of the Wisconsin debacle. Conaboy said they have a good scout-look prepared of PSU "and we just have to play our game, worry about us."
He said this week's practice work has been the best communication the Terps offensive line has had this season. Hopefully that carries over to the raucous environment the Terps are sure to see Saturday afternoon in Happy Valley, where Maryland arrives with a mark of 1-35-1 in the lopsided history of the series, and last week was flagged a few times for procedure calls on the line.
"They have a good team, a good defense," Conaboy said of PSU. "Good, physical, strong defense with balance, so we're going to have to bring our 'A' game definitely."
Conaboy said he just wants a win this weekend, and isn't "worried about the future" as far as trying to get bowl-qualified with a sixth win.
He said it will be good to see the former Terps coaches, including James Franklin who recruited him out of Pennsylvania, "and hopefully after a 'W' go up and shake their hands."
Both Franklin and Lee Hull combined on Conaboy's recruitment.
So far this week, Randy Edsall has reminded the players a few times of what is at stake, Conaboy said.
"He's definitely brought up the record, how important it is to us, how important it is for the state. And everyone wants to get it for each other, the program, the state," Conaboy said. "It would be a big win."
Conaboy Has a Few PSU Roots
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