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Maryland football vs. No. 22 Penn State preview

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Both Maryland and Penn State are searching for a sixth win.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

After losing three in a row, Maryland football is back in the win column as it gets set to welcome No. 22 Penn State.

Both quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and wide receiver Carlos Carriere are coming off career performances against Indiana.

Tagovailoa tallied 419 passing yards while completing 26 of his 40 attempted passes. The junior quarterback also threw for two touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Hoosiers. Both of Tagovailoa’s touchdown passes went to Carriere. The senior wideout grabbed eight receptions totaling 134 yards. The Terps defeated Indiana on their home turf, 38-35.

Now, Maryland has just one win standing in the way of it qualifying for a bowl game and will look to upset Penn State while doing so.

“Obviously six is the magic number to become bowl eligible,” head coach Michael Locksley said. “We all know it because now we have five, we can talk about six. But again, it’s the next game mentality.”

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Penn State is the 10-point favorite as of Thursday evening.

The game is set to kick off on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and will air on FS1.

Penn State Nittany Lions (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten)

2020 record: 4-5

Penn State is led by head coach James Franklin who has been at the helm of the program since Jan. 11, 2014. Franklin has led Penn State to finish in the top-12 in four of the last five seasons and is one of only six active FBS coaches to lead his team to a bowl game every year in the first nine years as a head coach.

This season, the Nittany Lions saw early success but had three tough matchups consecutively to ultimately fall to a 5-3 record. Penn State’s first loss of the season came on Oct. 9 to Iowa, just one week after the Terps faced the Hawkeyes. Iowa was the No. 3 team in the country at the time and Franklin’s team traveled to Iowa City and nearly pulled out the win but could not complete the job.

Then, on Oct. 23, the Nittany Lions played in a historic nine-overtime game against an unranked Illinois team. They dropped that matchup, 20-18. Most recently, Penn State fell to then-No. 5 Ohio State, 33-24.

Similar to the Terps, Penn State will be searching for its sixth, and bowl-qualifying, win on Saturday.

Players to watch

Jahan Dotson, senior wide receiver, 5-foot-11, No. 5 — The wideout from Nazareth, Pennsylvania leads the team in receiving touchdowns, yards and catches. Dotson has grabbed six touchdowns and has 60 catches totaling 690 yards. His most receptions came against Ohio State where he grabbed 11 passes for 127 yards and had a two-yard rushing touchdown. Additionally, Dotson has completed two passes for 22 yards. Dotson plays an integral role in Penn State’s offense and ranks second in the Big Ten in receiving yards behind Purdue’s David Bell.

Parker Washington, sophomore wide receiver, 5-foot-10, No. 3 — Last season against the Terps as a true freshman, Washington grabbed eight catches for 70 yards and two touchdowns. Washington earned Freshman All-America second team honors from The Athletic. Now, with one year of collegiate football under his belt, Washington continues to make an impact for the Nittany Lions. The Sugar Land, Texas native has had 41 receptions for 482 yards and two touchdowns. Washington’s performance thus far places him at the No. 10 spot in the conference in receiving yards.

“Penn State has, you know, Parker Washington and Jahan Dotson,” Locksley said. “They’ve got the two tight ends, they’ve got the running back out of the backfield and they got a really good quarterback that’s really progressed in their system, so will be quite a challenge.”

Ji’Ayir Brown, senior safety, 5-foot-11, 205 lbs, No. 16 — From 2018-19, Brown played at Lackawanna Community College and in his first season with the Nittany Lions, he recorded six tackles and a pass breakup. This season, Brown has made a large jump. He leads the team with three interceptions which also rank sixth in the conference and 14th in the nation. The Trenton, New Jersey native has also broken up four passes this season and forced one fumble along with a fumble recovery against Ohio State’s electric offense. His 39 tackles rank fifth on the team, however, 34 of those tackles are solo ones, the second-best on the team.

Strength

Scoring defense. The Nittany Lions have the second-best scoring defense in the Big Ten behind Iowa and the eighth-best in the nation. Penn State has allowed a conference-low 12 touchdowns on the season and its opponents average just 17 points per game. This will pose a challenge for Tagovailoa and an offense with players who have stepped up in recent performances.

“They’re a much different team than last year,” sophomore wide receiver Rakim Jarrett said. “The defense flows much more to the ball.”

Weakness

Penalties. Discipline is an area the Terps have been struggling with all season and they have committed 53 penalties costing them 493 yards. However, the Nittany Lions are not far behind. Penn State has committed 50 penalties costing 439 yards while its opponents committed 43 penalties for 380 yards.

Three things to watch

1. How will quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa perform against another ranked opponent? Tagovailoa is coming off a career-high 400 plus passing yard performance against an Indiana defense at the basement of the Big Ten. Penn State’s defense will pose a much tougher challenge for the junior quarterback. When he faced Iowa, the conference’s top defense and one of the nation’s best, Tagovailoa completed 16 of his 29 passes for a season-low 157 yards. He recorded two touchdowns but after throwing just one interception in the first four games of the season, Tagovailoa threw five passes that ended up in the hands of Iowa’s defenders. This game could be a good indicator to see whether Tagovailoa and the rest of the Terps’ offense can heat up and find momentum against the conference’s top opponents.

2. Will the Terps’ defense set up the opportunity for Maryland to not play from behind? When Maryland played Ohio State, its first drive of the game was a success. However, once the defense got on the field, at the time without Kenny Bennett and Jakorian Bennett, quarterback C.J. Stroud got on the board with a touchdown and from then on, Maryland was looking to catch a lead rather than extend one.

“We just gotta take our turnover circuits more serious and just focus on getting the ball out,” senior defensive back Jakorian Bennett said.

3. Can Maryland pull off the upset and qualify for a bowl game with a win against the Nittany Lions? The Terps have a large opportunity in front of them to collect a big win in front of a home crowd. Although Penn State is the favorite in this matchup, and historically dominated the Terps, Maryland may be catching it at an opportune time when it's on a three-game losing steak. If the Terps can pull off the upset, they collect the elusive sixth win that makes them bowl eligible for the first time since 2016. It may be a steep mountain for Locksley’s team to climb, however, with the team sitting just one victory away from a bowl game may make this game closer than some previous Penn State-Maryland matchups.

*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.

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