clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Previewing Maryland vs. Penn State with Nittany Lions blog Black Shoe Diaries

We sat down with SB Nation's Penn State blog, Black Shoe Diaries, to talk about Maryland's rivalry (or non-rivalry) with Penn State, Christian Hackenberg's health, and how Penn State fans are feeling about James Franklin.

James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Thank you to Black Shoe Diaries writer Nick Polak for taking the time to sit and and speak with us about Maryland's upcoming game against Penn State.

Testudo Times: Maryland fans don't like Penn State very much. Many also hope it can develop into a rivalry, especially after Maryland's departure from their traditional rivals in the ACC. But PSU fans seem to yawn at that suggestion. As two school who weren't part of the original Big Ten cool kids, do you think a rivalry can eventually develop between the schools? Why do Penn State fans lift their nose to that notion today? And if Maryland isn't a rival, than who does Penn State consider their rival?

Black Shoe Diaries: Coming in hot to start things off, I like it.

Honestly, I see no reason why a rivalry between Penn State and Maryland can't develop over time. It will definitely require some patience, though. Part of what makes a great rivalry, at least in my opinion, is an evenly-matched game, in which records can be thrown out the window. For example, when Ohio State and Michigan get together, it doesn't matter who the better team is- anything can happen. Now, it's not really fair to put PSU-UMD up against The Game to determine its validity as a rivalry, but it helps illustrate my feelings on it. Since there really isn't much of a long-standing history between these two schools, it would take a solid 7-10 years of back and forth play to truly develop a rivalry. And who knows, maybe that started last season when the Terps took down the Lions.

As far as why Penn State fans lift their noses, I think part of the reason is because we live in 2015, and internet tough guys (on both sides) can say whatever they want with no consequences. Penn State is a school stuck in rivalry-purgatory right now since the only school who is our true rival (in my opinion), is Pitt, and they haven't met on the field since 2000. It's funny, because Penn State fans feel the same way about Maryland that Ohio State fans about Penn State, so I think a bit of that is mixed in there as well. All in all though, I think the biggest thing is the one-sided nature of their head-to-head thus far, that causes Penn State fans to refuse to consider Maryland a rival. And I agree with that notion, for now. That could change, but until we see that back and forth with success on both sides, it's simply just a game on the schedule with a little extra internet hate.

TT: How do Penn State fans feel about this team so far this season after putting five straight wins together, sandwiched between losses to Temple and Ohio State?  How are they feeling about James Franklin?

BSD: Despite five wins already in 2015, Penn State fans, as a whole, definitely fall more on the "displeased" side of the spectrum. The reasons behind that fall squarely on the shoulders of offensive coordinator John Donovan, and whoever else has input in the play-calling (we were told Franklin had more input on games where PSU looked better, but who knows). Five wins were expected at this point in the season due to the soft schedule, but they've only had two truly, convincing wins (over Rutgers and Indiana).

A lot of those concerns will likely be mitigated, to a degree, in the coming weeks thanks to the return of freshman phenom Saquon Barkley (averaging 8.5 ypc on 68 carries this season) and a soft spot in the schedule. But frankly, the predictability and lack of innovation on the part of Donovan is disheartening for Penn State fans, especially for an offense that has multiple four star players at nearly every skill position. James Franklin isn't close to catching the ire or rational Penn State fans yet, but if he doesn't get a new offensive coordinator this offseason, that might change. It helps that Temple is actually good now.

TT: Why is Penn State's offensive line struggling so much this season? Has it gotten any better over the past few games?

BSD: The main reason is talent. The current starting offensive line is comprised of a JuCo (Paris Palmer) who has now only played in seven D1 games, some combination of a low four star (Brendan Mahon) and two converted defensive tackles (Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia) at the guard positions, a center who has versatility but fits much better at a guard spot (Angelo Mangiro), and a three star who still looks like he is very much injured (Andrew Nelson). The offensive line was where the sanctions hit Penn State the hardest, and Donovan Smith declaring for the NFL Draft this past offseason didn't help. As a whole, the unit is slightly better than they were week one, but it's hard to fall much further than giving up a sack to a two man defensive line.

The one bright spot has been the steady improvement of Palmer, who is quickly becoming a decent-to-solid left tackle when he's not going up against someone like Joey Bosa. It's probably going to be another young offensive line next year for the Lions, so his continued development is of vital importance.

TT: Christian Hackenberg looked a little beat up during that Ohio State game. How is he doing this week? Will he be 100 percent against Maryland?

BSD: No idea. Since coming to Penn State, Franklin has been notorious for giving basically no information on injuries, which I have no problem with. No sense in telling upcoming opponents what they need to prepare for. However, based on post-game interviews and the fact that he continued on in the game, I'm inclined to believe Hackenberg is okay. He's been some level of banged up for two years now thanks to his putrid offensive line, so he'll look like the same Hack. He has been running the ball with some decent success this season so far, so that's the thing to watch for- whether or not he's too banged up to do that effectively. With the way Penn State's offensive line has been playing, he won't survive inside the pocket if he's not able to shimmy through traffic and step up to throw (which is quietly one of his best traits as a quarterback).

TT: What are the biggest strengths of PSU's defense this season? Maryland's quarterback play has been....subpar, especially when it comes to throwing downfield. Can teams run on Penn State?

BSD: Things were not looking good for Penn State when starting middle linebacker, Nyeem Wartman-White, left the season opener due to injury. However, they haven't skipped a beat. Temple was able to run on them a bit, but that was almost a direct result of the defense having communication deficiencies without Wartman-White in the middle. Since then, Jason Cabinda has taken over playcalling duties, and done so masterfully. The defense is as stout as ever, led by the other-worldly defensive line. According to Bill C's advanced stats over at Football Study Hall, Penn State's defensive line causes the most havoc out of any line in the country (sacks, forced fumbles, tackles for loss, batted/picked passes). Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson will both be playing football on Sunday next season, barring something unforeseen, and former walk-on Carl Nassib leads the nation in sacks (12), tackles for loss (16) and forced fumbles (5). They know how to pressure a quarterback as well as anyone in the country.

That being said, this team was gashed by JT Barrett last weekend. Now, Barrett is the best option quarterback in football, so it's hard to fault them for that. But it's possible that they're a little tired after chasing him around all night. Honestly though, they're more likely to be pissed off about it than tired. Perry Hills is a great running quarterback in his own right, but he's no JT Barrett. I wouldn't be surprised to see him break off a modest run or two (Zander Diamont had a little bit of success against Penn State), but he won't be able to do enough to take over the game in that regard.

TT:  Fill in the blanks: ____________ will win on Saturday in Baltimore because _______________.

BSD: Penn State will win on Saturday in Baltimore because they are the better team in all facets, expect maybe offensive line and cornerback, because Will Likely is the man, and I honestly know nothing about the Terps' offensive line.

I think it will be a close game, closer than Penn State fans want it to be, but I don't think Maryland has enough firepower to fight their way through the Nittany Lion defense. Hack will spend the day handing the ball off to Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley, and that's all they really need to do to win this one, in my opinion. I think Penn State wins by a final of 24-16.