The Maryland football team that buses into M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore to face Penn State next Saturday afternoon will not be fundamentally different than the one that left Columbus at 2-4 last weekend. The quarterback will be the same, as will almost the entire lineup. The play-callers will be the same: Keith Dudzinski on defense and Mike Locksley on offense, maybe with a touch of tight ends coach John Dunn. Basically, Maryland will be the same team it ever was.
Not everything is the same, of course. Locksley has a new job title – interim head coach – after Maryland fired Randy Edsall a week ago Sunday. As a result of Edsall's dismissal and Maryland's bye week coinciding, we've spent the last week writing more – OK, a lot more – about Maryland's future than its present. But now it's another game week, so let's start putting now and then into a bit more balance.
What we saw last week (or, two weeks ago) – Maryland vs. Ohio State
1. Perry Hills had a classic good-bad day. Maryland's newly entrenched starting quarterback couldn't do a thing through the air against the Buckeyes' pass rush (10 of 27 for 133 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions), but he managed to get free for 170 rushing yards and a score on the ground. Maryland's vertical passing game this year has been and continued to be brutal, as the Terps are now 92nd nationally passing S&P+. But in rushing, they're No. 2. That's not a typo.
2. Maryland's defensive line came to play. Ohio State's got at least three NFL players on its offensive line, but Maryland's defensive front did more than hold its own. The Terps impossibly held star running back Ezekiel Elliott under 4 yards per carry well into the second half and mostly forced Cardale Jones to beat them through the air – which he did, to the tune of 291 yards and two scores on 21-of-28 passing. Still, it was a laudable effort by Maryland's front until the very end, when things admittedly got a bit out of hand.
3. Brad Craddock may never get to kick a field goal again. Craddock, Maryland's Lou Groza Award-winning kicker, has been pretty bored during recent Maryland games. He hasn't gotten a field goal try since Sept. 12 against Bowling Green, which is now a span of four games, or a third of the season. He's kicked just nine extra points since the same date. Maryland's offensive incompetence is very likely to cost Craddock (the clear best kicker in the nation) another Groza.
What we're looking for this week – Maryland vs. Penn State
1. The same thing Maryland's needed all year. That's to say "better quarterback play." It's jarring that Maryland's best QB effort of the season was either Hills's 37 percent completion day against Ohio State or Caleb Rowe's four-touchdown-but-three-interception showing against South Florida, but it's definitely true. Maryland hasn't gotten a single clean, good game from a quarterback since C.J. Brown's burst of competence against Michigan 11 months ago.
2. A big day for Maryland's defensive front. Penn State's offensive line was steaming garbage in 2014 and is just as bad this year. The Nittany Lions have a nice running back tandem in Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch and an uber-talented quarterback in Christian Hackenberg, but this wretched line has prevented any of them from doing much good. The Lions are just No. 50 in rushing S&P+, bolstered by their No. 78 ranking in adjusted line yards. Their running backs get stuffed on 23 percent of their runs (No. 109 nationally) and on a full 50 percent of short-yardage tries (No. 120). In the passing game, Hackenberg gets sacked on a hilarious 10.4 percent of his drop-backs (the national average is 5.4 percent), and Penn State's adjusted sack rate as a team is 114th out of 128 teams. This line is putrid. Yannick Ngakoue and Jesse Aniebonam should rack up pressures all afternoon.
3. Maryland's pride. The Terps agreed to move this game 35 minutes closer to Penn State. The Nittany Lions generally travel well, and they're 5-2 to Maryland's 2-4. There's a good chance the stadium is completely overrun with blue and white, forcing Maryland to play a de-facto road game in its own backyard. The Terps need to show up for themselves and Locksley and avoid being blown out. If they can't do that, the scene in Baltimore could get very dark. On the other hand, if Maryland shows up and plays a strong game and wins, it'll suddenly be not totally impossible to make a bowl game and Penn State will have just lost a game to a team with an interim head coach. That's got to be worth something.