Maryland football visits Penn State on Saturday for the toughest game of the season thus far. The road atmosphere in Happy Valley will be unlike anything the Terps have seen this season, and even though the Nittany Lions aren’t an elite-level squad, they’re a couple steps up from Maryland’s first four opponents.
Testudo Times: Is Penn State as fired up for this game as Maryland seems to be? Do the folks up north believe this rivalry is a thing?
Black Shoe Diaries: I'm guessing that Maryland fans are more pumped up for this one because the Terps are undefeated and facing their biggest test of the season so far. Meanwhile, Penn State fans have already watched their team drop a rivalry game to Pitt and a "rivalry" game at Michigan. To many Nittany Lion fans, Maryland is only a rival because of the proximity of the two schools and not because of a shared history of competitiveness, but that a victory by the Terps this weekend can start to change their minds a little bit.
TT: Penn State sits at 3-2, with both losses coming on the road (to Pittsburgh and Michigan). The Pittsburgh loss was close, as were wins against Temple and Minnesota. What's the outlook for this team right now?
BSD: Well, since everyone in the Big Ten seems to be playing terribly right now, we're hoping that James Franklin can still rally the Lions to eight wins. Just look at the schedule. The three road games remaining are at Purdue, at Indiana, and at Rutgers. There's no reason why Penn State shouldn't win at least two of those. Then you have Maryland, Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan State at home. While Ohio State looks like an impossible task right now, Maryland is unproven, and both Sparty and the Hawkeyes are coming off of bad losses. If Penn State can get by the Terps, expectations will be on the rise for this team.
TT: It's Trace McSorley's time at quarterback with Christian Hackenburg in the NFL. How has the junior handled everything since taking over?
BSD: McSorley has been pretty good so far for a first-year starter. Overall, he's completed 59 percent of his throws for 8.13 yards per attempt, which are both figures that Hackenberg didn't come close to during his junior year. We still have much of the Big Ten schedule to play, but fans are feeling excited about the new signal caller after he led a game-tying field goal drive against Minnesota last weekend. In that game, he completed just 19 of his 41 passes but still threw for 335 yards thanks to a number of big plays in the second half. McSorley also used his legs as a weapon, gaining 73 yards on eight carries to set a career high in rushing.
TT: We've known about Saquon Barkley for a while now. He's got eight touchdowns in five games. What do the Terps have to do to stop him?
BSD: Barkley is a special talent, as anyone who has watched him play can attest. However, his last three games have featured pedestrian performances thanks to an offensive line that often looked overmatched against Michigan and Minnesota. Still, as Barkley showed with game-winning touchdown runs against Temple and the Gophers, he only needs a slight crease to get into the open field where he is truly dangerous. For Maryland to slow down Barkley, it has to win the battle in the trenches and get sure tackling from its secondary when the sophomore halfback does get past the first line of defense.
TT: Safety Marcus Allen has nearly twice as many tackles as anyone else on the team. For those who haven't seen him, how would you describe his game?
BSD: Almost half of Allen's 50 tackles came in the Minnesota game, when he totaled 22 stops (eight solo). He's an aggressive safety who isn't afraid of contact in the run game or in pass defense. One reason why he has so many more tackles than any other Nittany Lion is that the front seven has been plagued by inexperience on the defensive line and major injuries to the linebackers. Not only is Allen one of the most experienced tacklers who's been healthy every week, but he's also playing close to the line of scrimmage to combat run-heavy attacks by Pitt, Michigan, and Minnesota. As the season goes on, Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry would probably like to see some of the young linemen and linebackers step up and make plays, but Allen will continue to be a key part of the defense regardless.
TT: How important is this game to Penn State's season?
BSD: I don't see this game as terribly important because there are still plenty of other opportunities for Penn State to collect wins and lock in a bowl bid. However, in the grander scheme, losing to Maryland can hurt Penn State in the recruiting game. Without the blue-chip players from the DMV area, it's going to be tougher for Franklin to grow Penn State into a major power in the Big Ten.
TT: Complete this sentence: _________ will win because _________.
BSD: Penn State will lose this game because its run defense is still lacking and the big plays on offense that saved the day against Minnesota won't be as frequent.