If there aren't enough story-lines and motivators galore to this week's third Maryland-PSU tilt since joining the B1G, well this year's Terrapins team under first-year coach D.J. Durkin won't be adding any more fuel to the already stoked fire between the two neighboring state schools.
Not a Terrapin player or coach would budge on any Terps-PSU series hype or lore this week, beyond OC Walt Bell offering up the lone comment of any note: that it’s the one game every fan has told him since he arrived at College Park that Maryland must win. That's it. The rest, ‘just our next conference game,’ mantra in a week no program appears to want to lob the first shot.
While the fire doesn't burn as bright from the north on Penn State's new league foe Maryland as it does from the south, who in the 'Old Line State' will forget the Antonio Logan-Els, Ron Vanderlindens, Larry Johnsons, and Derrick Williams of the world over the years? Toss in Gloria Friedgen's verbal zinger in Latin, at the ESPN Zone in Baltimore so many Signing Day and ‘ALE’ sagas ago (death to traitors, the general theme), and let the games begin again.
Two years ago the Terps, led by C.J. Brown and Brad Craddock, went up and won in Happy Valley for the first time in seemingly forever in dramatic fashion under Randy Edsall, while last year Maryland gave away a game to PSU, 31-30, in Baltimore, thanks to five turnovers, four by quarterback Perry Hills alone.
Its redemption time now for Hills and the favored Terps, who at 4-0 hope Penn State didn't finally find some season 'mojo' in its come-from-behind overtime win over undefeated Minnesota last week at Beaver Stadium to improve to 3-2 after the thrashing the week before at Michigan. Many are calling it Franklin's (the former Terps assistant and coach-in-waiting) 'signature win' at a time he and the program sorely needed it to assuage critics. PSU came back from a 13-3 deficit at halftime with 17 consecutive points on three possessions in the third quarter.
Whether it put their season on track remains to be seen, as Penn State is injury-riddled at linebacker with seven nicked; starts two freshmen on a still-developing offensive line (how many years have you heard that?); and star sophomore running back Saquon Barkley only has one 100-yard game to his credit this season, behind said line.
Sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley is a threat with both his arm and his feet, and Maryland must continue the contain job it did on David Blough and Purdue last week, which it dominated in both trenches and allowed only 10 yards rushing. McSorley may soon be making fans forget about 'Hackey-Sack', and hope the PSU offense finally found some identity late against the Gophers. His late-game heroics (26-yard scramble in final seconds or regulation to set up game-tying field goal), as well as his 408 yards of total offense that day put him atop the B1G Ten passing yards leaders this week. Barkley notched the 25-yard game-winner on the first play in overtime, but had just 38 yards on 19 attempts before that dash.
Blough was harassed and kept off-schedule all game in the Terps 50-7 Homecoming whipping, and Maryland must contain and tackle in space this week after too much 'prevent' and iffy tackling two games ago at UCF. It looks like they will be pinning their ears back from here out, with more odd-man fronts and pressure packages, while the nickle look with Will Likely is humming. But they have to swarm and tackle Barkley well in space, and try and limit him as they did last year in 'Charm City.'
Hills, who teams are going to load the box more and make him beat them with his arm (what with Maryland's rushing success anyhow), has to read coverages and blitzes and backside pressure quicker, and get better protection from a sometimes porous interior OL. The Terps rushed for a whopping 400 yards last week against Purdue (and average 300 yards a game), which failed to adjust having just five in the box all night, something the Terps won't see this week at Happy Valley. With all its injuries, the Penn State defense is more varied of late. But Maryland, so far, has done a great job of taking what defenses are giving them, and not hurting themselves, and we don't expect that to change anytime soon under Durkin and Co., who have great connectivity with the players already.
Hills still takes a while to get rid of it, can stare down receivers, take dubious chances trying to throw in tight windows, and doesn't always see the middle of the field. The good news is his awful pick on the first series last week versus Purdue he quickly forgot, and the Terps defense helped in sudden-change situations as Maryland rolled from there and Hills ‘managed’ the game well. Now folks, naturally, want more from the gutsy senior passer to take the next step as a quick reader and thrower in Walt Bell's prolific system.
Terps receivers and especially tight ends are likely starving for the ball, and we suspect quick screens and slants and swings could be a staple this week, given the mixed pressure that could be coming. There the Terps also have the luxury of Hills' feet, which he gashed the Nittany Lions with last year in Baltimore before fumbling, and is always a threat in the Terps' arsenal. Maryland and Bell kept Purdue off-balance all night with its mis-direction and jet sweeps and shovel passes, as the run game romped led by Ty Johnson. But the sledding -- and box -- will be tighter and more crowded this week, so zone-read and play-action from Hills will be big.
PSU is strong on the backline, led by the likes of former Wise High School star/'chatterbox' junior safety Marcus Allen, who had 22 tackles last week versus Minnesota. He always gets extra ‘chippy’ when he goes against Maryland, who he spurned in the recruiting process. But the Terps have plenty of athletes to get out in space and do their thing 'YAC.' They just have to get the ball. D.J. Moore is Maryland's leading receiver through four games, yet he only has 13 catches, and the receiver corps at large has but four scores.
Meanwhile, between the three primary tight ends there are only two grabs, both by Derrick Hayward, who is known more for his blocking these days. Hello Avery Edwards, he of no grabs or targets yet. The middle hopefully will be more fruitful this week, especially against the PSU newbie ‘backer corps.
Meanwhile, that Terps defense that swallowed up Purdue last week, expect big eyes on Barkley as well as McSorley in contain again, but DC Andy Buh to dial up enough pressure to keep the sophomore McSorley gunslinger in a lot of second and third-and-longs while pressing the young Lions' offensive line on the edges. Maryland's defensive backline has been sticky and aggressive of late, save for the pass interference calls last week vs the Boilermakers. Will Likely and Alvin Hill’s downfield ability with the ball in the air is peaking, while J.C. Jackson is coming into his own more as a ball-hawk, making sound decisions. Converted safety Darnell Savage has been a revelation at his new safety spot, while Josh Woods, in for relief of injured Denzel Conyers, was more than solid against Purdue in his first start on the backline. The Terps have kept most everything in front of them, but PSU clearly has the best fleet of deep threats (see Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton) they have seen all year, breaking loose with several explosion plays late vs. Minnesota. The Terps’ front seven has to stay in their gaps, and the linebackers continue to fill better.
It the elements arrive at State College as well, this could be more of a ground-game-grinder, and maybe one decided on a special team’s big play. Or gaffe. Terps freshman punter Wade Lees has been huge with his consistency and directional kicks, while junior placekicker Adam Greene still needs to find a firm groove after missing two of three field goals at UCF, his last game with an attempt, though one was from 51 yards. His kickoffs could use a little more distance, too.
Who can forget what the Aussie Craddock did to win it two years ago in Happy Valley, meanwhile Likely is due for a breakout game in the return piece as well.
Oh, and did we forget, 'you may as well shut down that state,' Aaron Maybin, and Phil Taylor, too? LOL
TT Game Prediction: Terps 27, Penn State 20, as Perry Hills makes enough vertical plays -- after some early adversity -- to prevail….