Maryland football (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) looks to rebound in a major way Saturday, but it won’t be easy. The Terps will travel to iconic Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania, to take on the No. 14 Penn State Nittany Lions.
In their last showing, the Terps came out flat, falling to the Wisconsin Badgers, 23-10, on the road. Wisconsin junior quarterback Graham Mertz and Maryland redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa each threw for 77 yards, but the Badgers’ ground game was the difference.
Playing through intense rain and wind, Wisconsin ran for 278 yards compared to only 112 for Maryland. Wisconsin senior running back Isaac Guerendo had the highlight play of the day with an 89-yard rushing touchdown, while sophomore Braelon Allen led the Badgers with 119 rush yards.
Throughout this week, Maryland has quickly had to shift its focus to the Big Ten powerhouse Nittany Lions, whose only two losses are to Michigan and Ohio State. Maryland has been competitive against Penn State in each of the last two seasons — winning 35-19 at Penn State in 2020 and tying the Nittany Lions in the fourth quarter last year before eventually taking a 31-14 loss.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Penn State is a sizable 10-point favorite over the Terps. The over/under is 58.5 points.
Penn State Nittany Lions (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten)
2021 record: 7-6 (4-5 Big Ten)
Now in his ninth year at Penn State, head coach James Franklin has his program back on track after a couple of down years. The Nittany Lions have already matched their total win mark from last season and are light-years better than they were in their 4-5 2020 season. Franklin received a massive contract extension last November, reportedly earning him $7.5 million per year and keeping him at Penn State through the 2031 season.
Penn State opened its season with a 35-31 win at Purdue in a Thursday primetime matchup. Since then, the Nittany Lions have six wins and two losses; each of the eight games were decided by double-digits. Penn State had two brief leads in its Oct. 15 game at Michigan but failed to compete in a decisive second half that gave Michigan a 24-point win. Penn State fought harder at home against Ohio State — even taking a five-point lead with under 10 minutes to play — but ultimately fell, 44-31.
The Nittany Lions are coming off a 45-14 demolition of Indiana on the road.
Players to know
Sean Clifford, redshirt senior+ quarterback, No. 14 — Now 24 years old and in his sixth year of college football, Clifford has been around the block and back. Clifford has become a polarizing player among Penn State fans, but he is still a two-time All-Big Ten honorable mention. Clifford has thrown for 2,045 yards, 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season and has thrown for 1,101 yards in three career games against Maryland. Expect to see five-star freshman quarterback Drew Allar, who has appeared in seven games, as well.
“I think 41 career starts, it seems like he’s been there forever,” Locksley said. “Talented quarterback, he’s the guy that kind of makes them go.”
Nicholas Singleton, freshman running back, No. 10 — Penn State’s leading rusher, Singleton has emerged into an absolute star in his first year in college football. The former five-star leads the Nittany Lions with 679 rushing yards and 6.1 yards per carry. He and fellow freshman Kaytron Allen each have eight touchdowns and have developed into a superb one-two punch.
Parker Washington, sophomore wide receiver, No. 3 — A dynamic playmaker at just five-foot-10, Washington will have all of the necessary attention from the Terps’ secondary. Washington has 579 receiving yards on the season, 200-plus yards more than any of Maryland’s options. Washington exploded against Ohio State on Oct. 29, hauling in 11 receptions for 179 yards.
Ji’Ayir Brown, senior+ safety, No. 16 — Ranked as the No. 3 safety on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s big board, Brown has been a star for Penn State in his third year with the program. Brown leads Penn State with 52 tackles, 39 solo tackles and three interceptions on the season. Brown has also added two sacks, four quarterback hits and one forced fumble this fall.
Offensive output. Regardless of opinions on Clifford’s ability, Penn State has elite skill players that have made it an elite offensive team in 2022. The Nittany Lions average 34.4 points per game at 436.7 yards per game, checking in as the third-best scoring and total offense in the Big Ten, trailing only Michigan and Ohio State; Maryland is fourth in each category. Penn State has dealt with recent health issues on the offensive front, though, as left guard Landon Tengwall was ruled out for the season Tuesday.
Third-down conversions. Penn State has struggled on third down this year, only converting on 36.7% of its 120 attempts this season, the 11th-best clip in the Big Ten. If Maryland can create a good third-down defensive plan, the numbers play to its advantage.
Three things to watch
1. How does Tagovailoa bounce back from a tough performance at Wisconsin? The Terps’ star signal-caller has been consistent for Maryland for basically the entirety of his three-year career. When Tagovailoa has a bad game, eyebrows are immediately raised. Tagovailoa’s performance at Wisconsin is one of three outliers in his Maryland tenure; the others were at Northwestern in his first career start on Oct. 14, 2020, and against Iowa on Oct. 1, 2021.
Against the Badgers in brutal weather conditions, Tagovailoa completed only 10 of his 23 passes for just 77 yards — the least he has ever had in a collegiate start — and threw a touchdown and an interception. Tagovailoa bounced back strong following each of the aforementioned poor performances, and it is hard to imagine he won’t get back on track Saturday.
“It’s all about moving on,” Tagovailoa said. “You always wish you could do more or have the game back and stuff like that. But that’s life, that’s football. And you got to turn it around real quick, because you know in the Big Ten, you got good teams back-to-back, and this our stretch of back-to-back good teams and stuff like that. So it’s just a matter of putting it behind you and working hard.”
2. Is there any extra juice heading into a “rivalry” matchup? Maryland vs. Penn State has been one of those wannabe rivalries in college football. Given the common factors between the school, that is no surprise. Maryland and Penn State annually recruit the same players and the schools are separated by about a three-and-a-half-hour drive; the Nittany Lions even poached promising edge rusher Chop Robinson this past season.
The reason why it’s not a rivalry? Penn State has historically obliterated Maryland, holding a 41-3-1 all-time series advantage. Locksley knows that Maryland needs to be win bunches of games against the Nittany Lions for this game to reach rivalry status. For now, it’s not quite there.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a little extra juice,” junior linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II said. “Coach [Locksley] is right, it’s definitely not a rivalry. For it to be a rivalry we have to win against them more. But, you know, yeah, it definitely brings extra juice, extra excitement if you will. But the mentality going into this week, as far as the whole team goes, it’s just the next game.”
3. Maryland will need to create turnovers and limit big plays to pull the shocker. After forcing eight turnovers in the previous three games combined, the Wisconsin game was the Terps’ first not generating any turnovers since Oct. 1. The home-run plays also hurt the Terps against the Badgers, as Guerendo’s 89-yard score was a backbreaker. It will be easier said than done, but if Maryland can excel in those areas it can give itself a chance to compete.