There is one Maryland football game remaining in 2017 (unless things get crazy). The Terps, who have limped through Big Ten play en route to a 4-7 record, host No. 10 Penn State on Saturday.
The Nittany Lions are 9-2, and while a two-loss Penn State team took home the Big Ten championship last season, that won’t happen this time around. This squad reached No. 2 in the country before suffering a one-point loss to Ohio State and falling on a walk-off field goal against Michigan State. Penn State still has Saquon Barkley, Trace McSorley and other stars that should give Maryland fits.
We’ve brought in Aaron Yorke of SB Nation’s Black Shoe Diaries to help us learn a little more about Maryland’s last opponent of the year. You can follow Aaron (@AaronPYorke) or the site (@BSDtweet) on Twitter if that’s your thing. Our corresponding Q&A is right over here.
Testudo Times: Penn State looked like a potential Playoff team not long ago, but a pair of close losses have changed the outlook. What's been your overall impression with the Nittany Lions this season?
Black Shoe Diaries: Penn State seemed like a very strong team all around earlier in the season, but some flaws started to emerge during Big Ten play. First, it became tougher to run the ball as opposing defenses focused more on stopping Saquon Barkley and the Penn State offensive line had trouble keeping tacklers out of the backfield. Then, the Penn State pass defense was exposed by Ohio State and Michigan State, as the two teams slowed down the pass rush and allowed their quarterbacks to tear into a Nittany Lions secondary that hadn't been tested early in the campaign. It's clear that Penn State is still a very good team with explosive talent on offense, and more efficient passing game, and a stout run defense, but it has also become apparent why the Lions aren't in play for a Playoff bid.
TT: Saquon Barkley continues to be incredible, and was the Heisman frontrunner for a while this year. What makes him such a dynamic playmaker, and what have the few teams to slow him down been able to do effectively?
BSD: Barkley came into the 2017 season with an incredible combination of strength and athleticism that has him at the top of NFL Draft boards across the country. Once the action kicked off, he showed that he can be a major threat in the passing game with his ability to create a long gain anytime he's lined up against a linebacker. However, Barkley has still been prone to major slumps in the running game. Part of that is due to an offensive line that still looks overmatched against top competition, but some of it is because of Barkley's lack of patience and tendency to break everything to the outside. That's caused him to have some quiet performances against defenses that can penetrate into the backfield and beat him to the edge. If he leaves for the NFL after this season, look for Barkley to work on becoming a better between-the-tackles runner to round out his game. He's already someone that NFL offensive coordinators will look to get into space as often as possible.
TT: How has Trace McSorley developed in his second full season as a starter?
BSD: McSorley still loves to throw the deep ball and take chances, but this year he's gotten better at hitting the intermediate routes and moving the chains. Although he's throwing for fewer yards per attempt than last year with a similar touchdown-to-interception ratio, you can see the way McSorley has improved with his big gains in completion percentage as well as third-down conversation rate. The Lions are completing 42 percent of third downs in 2017 compared to 32 percent last year, and a lot of that is due to McSorley making smarter decisions when the stakes are high.
TT: Which defensive player (or players) should Maryland fans keep an eye on this weekend?
BSD: Senior linebacker Jason Cabinda and senior safety Marcus Allen lead the Lions in tackles and will be key to slowing down the Maryland rushing game. Grant Haley will also have to come up big, since we expect him to be lined up against D.J. Moore for much of the afternoon. Up front, Shareef Miller is Penn State's top playmaker on the line with nine tackles for loss this season.
5. With another Big Ten East title not in the cards, what's the postseason goal for Penn State at this point?
BSD: With a top-10 Playoff ranking still in play, Penn State fans are hoping for a New Year's Six bowl bid against a high-profile opponent. Losses to Ohio State and Michigan State mean that Penn State's biggest wins this season are against teams on the fringes of the Playoff rankings, so it would be fun to see the Lions score a win against one of the nation's top programs before the season is over.
TT: Maryland and Penn State have played some close games in recent years, but this isn't expected to be another. What would have to happen for the Nittany Lions to be on upset alert?
BSD: It starts with Maryland stopping the run and forcing Trace McSorley to take the game into his own hands. If Maryland is able to eliminate the big plays and stop Penn State from scoring quickly, the Terps will have a better chance at getting stops and turnovers. On offense, Maryland will have to get some big plays early out of the running game in order to open up space downfield for D.J. Moore to work his magic.