WHO: Maryland Terrapins @ Penn State Nittany Lions
WHAT: Women's soccer B1G Conference game
WHERE: Jeffrey Field, University Park, PA
WHEN: Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 7:00 pm
WATCH: In person
Well, it's down to the season's final regular season game. And who exactly does Maryland get to play? The 16 time, three of the last four years, and current Big Ten Champion Penn State Nittany Lions. Even more fun, they get to face the challenge of playing them on their home field. Over the last four seasons Penn State is 37-3-3 at Jeffrey Field. This season they are 9-1 and they haven't lost more than one game at home since the 2010 season.
As for Maryland, the Terps are 1-5-2 away from College Park this season. In 17 games, Maryland has scored 17 goals. Only six of those have come on the road and, of those six, three came in the game at Nebraska. The scoring challengedTerps are coming off back to back 1-0 road losses at Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Nittany Lions on the pitch
For a program with a rich history and tradition, 2013 was a bit of a down year for the Nittany Lions. They finished the season 15-7-1 and their 7-4 conference record placed them third in the league. They were upset by Iowa in the B1G Conference Tournament semifinals and lost to Wake Forest in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It's noteworthy that though they averaged 2.61 goals per game they were shutout 1-0 in both those losses.
As noted above, the 16-2 (11-1 Big Ten) Nittany Lions have already laid claim to their 16th B1G Championship and they done so in large part propelled by another powerful offensive year in which they have averaged a conference leading 2.50 goals per game. Of course, they don't neglect the defensive end of the field, either. Penn State has given up the third fewest goals of any squad in the Big Ten. Curiously, they have given up more goals at home (8) than they have on the road (5). They have scored marginally less in conference games but still average 2.17 goals per game. On the other hand, they've ramped up their defense a bit dropping their goals against average from 0.72 to 0.58.
Players to watch
Frannie Crouse, #9, freshman, forward. Though Crouse leads the Nittany Lions in goals with eight and is second on the team in points with 17, it's difficult to single out a player or two as someone to watch on this remarkably balanced team. Thirteen different players have scored for Penn State and nine of them have scored at least twice. However, for Crouse to come in as a freshman and lead the team is a likely indication that she is a special player.
Mallory Weber, #16, junior, forward. In 2013, Penn State had two players who scored double digit goals for the season. Though Weber is the leading returning scorer from last season, she was not one of those players. Weber is currently second on the team in goals with six and with an equal number of assists leads the team in points. Weber was All-Big Ten first team in 2013 and was named to the All-Freshman team in 2012.
Given the relative proximity of Maryland to Penn State, it should be no surprise that, unlike most of the Terps' foes in their new conference, the teams have faced off on a number of occasions. The exact number would be eleven. Penn State has won seven and Maryland four. The Terps' most recent win came in 1996 while the Nittany Lions last beat Maryland 3-0 in 2005.
Maryland is currently eighth in the Big Ten. If they can manage to upset the Nittany Lions and improve on their 1-5-2 road record, they can assure that they finish no worse than eighth. If they can manage a tie, it sets up the possibility that, by winning their games on Friday with Minnesota and Rutgers respectively, either Northwestern, Ohio State, or both could tie the Terps with 15 points. A win or a tie by the Terps would eliminate Nebraska but a Maryland loss not only brings Northwestern and Ohio State but also the Cornhuskers into the picture.
Maryland has a very capable defense. In 17 games, the Terps have conceded just 16 goals and seven of those came in just two games - the season opening 3-0 loss at UCLA and the 4-3 overtime loss at Nebraska. The Terrapins' biggest challenge all season has been scoring - they have played 123 minutes of scoreless soccer since their last goal against Illinois and earlier in the season went more than 260 minutes between goals. Remember, of their 17 goals, only six have come away from College Park and Penn State yields just over half a goal per game in conference play.
Two more pieces steepen the obstacles the Terps need to overcome in finding their inner Katy Catanzaro. The first is that they will possibly again be without defender Erika Nelson. Should Nelson again not be available, Coach Jonathan Morgan will once again need to move Shade Pratt into a defensive position and remove one of his few offensive threats. The other is the balance in Penn State's attack. Shut down Crouse and Mallory is equally capable. Stymie those two and the Nittany Lions have three other players who have scored five goals each. A tall challenge, indeed.