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Maryland vs. Penn State preview: Mike Locksley's Terps try to snap skid vs. Nittany Lions

The Terps look for an upset in Mike Locksley's first game at the helm.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Maryland Terrapins shift their home field from the confines of Byrd Stadium up Interstate 95 to the Baltimore Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium where they will host the Penn State Nittany Lions at 3:30 p.m. this Saturday. Maryland will be playing in its first game since the dismissal of head coach Randy Edsall following the team's 21-point loss to Ohio State. The Terps have lost three-straight games, all by at least  21 points.

The Terps have defeated Penn State just two times in the series between the schools, once in 1961 and again last season at Beaver Stadium. To honor their first win over the Nittany Lions, the Terps will be wearing throwback uniforms similar to the ones worn by that 1961 team.

Penn State Nittany Lions (5-2)

2014 record: 7-6, won New Era Pinstripe Bowl over Boston College

Head coach: James Franklin (12-8, 36-23 career)

All-time record vs. Maryland: 35-2-1

F/+ ranking: 46 (Maryland is 93)

5-year recruiting ranking: 27th

Players to know

Christian Hackenberg, QB, junior, 6'4, 228 lbs, #14
Penn State's heralded junior quarterback has been sacked a lot this season, but when he's been able to remain upright, he's tossed eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. He's thrown for 1,208 yards thus far, but is completing just 53 percent of his passes, a career low if he continues at that percentage for the rest of the season. Hackenberg is playing behind an offensive line that is beat up and also features two defensive tackles who were moved to the offensive line. Containing Hackenberg will be one of the keys for Maryland to pull off the upset against Penn State.

Carl Nassib, DE, redshirt senior, 6'7, 272 lbs, #95

If I told you in August that there would be a defensive end in the Big Ten at mid-season who was leading the nation in sacks with 11.5, in forced fumbles with five, and,tackles for loss with 15.5, you'd probably guess it was Ohio State's Joey Bosa. You'd be wrong, of course, because it's Penn State's Carl Nassib, a former walk-on who had never started a high school or college game before this season. Nassib has been simply incredible for Nittany Lions this season.

Anthony Zettel, DT, senior, 6'4, 284 lbs, #98

Zettel is another anchor on Penn State's impressive defensive line. He, along with Nassib, has been named to the Lott Impact award watch list, an award that honors "College football's defensive best in character and performance." Zettel currently has 27 total tackles on the season, including eight for a loss, has broken up four passes, forced a fumble and picked up a sack. 

Austin Johnson, DT, junior, 6'4, 323 lbs, #99
Johnson is another stud defensive tackle on Penn State's line who will very likely be playing football on Sundays in the future if he so chooses. He's recorded 40 tackles so far, including 7.5 for a loss, 3.5 sacks, returned a fumble 71 yards for a touchdown, and broken up a pass. 

Saquon Barkley, RB, freshman, 5'11, 222 lbs, #26

Barkley, who has dealt with some injury issues this season, is averaging an amazing 8.34 yards per carry. In Penn State's loss to Ohio State last week, his first game action since September 26th against San Diego State, he carried the ball 26 times (a season high) for 194 yards. Barkley also has three rushing touchdowns on the season. He not much of a receiving threat, having only caught one pass for 22 yards so far this season. Maryland will have to limit Barkley in the same way that they contained
Ezekiel Elliott, limiting the explosive Ohio State back to just 109 yards two weeks ago.


Defensive line

Nick Polak, a writer for SB Nation's Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries, noted in our Behind Enemy Lines series that Penn State's defensive line leads the nation in DL havoc rate, which is "...a team's total tackles for loss, passes defensed, and forced fumbles divided by total plays." According to Football Study Hall, defensive lines, on average this season, are forcing havoc plays on 5.1 percent of their plays. Penn State is doing so 12.5 percent of the time. Maryland has to be really careful on Saturday.


The advanced stat IsoPPP looks specifically at how many points per play a team scores on just the successful plays that are run. When Penn State runs successful plays, it scores. the Lions rank eighth nationally in IsoPPP on offense, meaning Maryland has to do a good job disrupting Penn State so the Lions can't execute successful plays. The more plays Penn State can run successfully, the more likely it is that Penn State will be able to score.


Offensive line

As was mentioned previously, Penn State's offensive line isn't doing Christian Hackenberg many favors this season. Penn State's adjusted sack rate on offense ranks 110th nationally. It should be noted that Hackenberg holding onto the ball too long and having limited mobility in the pocket might be contributing to that stat as well.

Passing success rate

Penn State's passing S&P+ (99th) and their passing success rate (111th) both rank very low. PSU is ahead of Maryland in both categories, but not by as much as you'd expect.


S&P+ prediction: Penn State 33.1, Maryland 18.4, 80 percent chance Penn State wins.

My prediction: Penn State 27, Maryland 20