Maryland football has one regular-season game left, and if the Terps don’t pull off a road upset of No. 12 Penn State on Saturday, they’ll finish 2018 with five wins after dropping their final four contests.
The Terps almost knocked off No. 10 Ohio State last weekend. They led the Buckeyes almost all afternoon, taking an early lead and forcing enough turnovers to hold off a charge, but Ohio State tied the game twice in regulation and took the lead in overtime. Maryland scored an OT touchdown and went for two and the win, but a potential storybook upset fell just short.
Unlike the Buckeyes, Maryland has beaten Penn State since joining the Big Ten, doing so on the road in 2014. But the all time series is still 38-2-1 in the Nittany Lions’ favor, and Penn State ran Maryland out of its own building in a 66-3 blowout in last year’s finale. It’ll be senior day in State College, but for the Terps’ seniors, a loss means their careers are over.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.
No. 12 Penn State Nittany Lions (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten)
2017 record: 11-2, 7-2
Head coach James Franklin was twice on Maryland’s coaching staff, first as wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator from 2000-04 and then as associate head coach and offensive coordinator from 2008-10. He coached Vanderbilt from 2011-13, posting a 24-15 record before bolting to State College. Penn State is 44-20 in Franklin’s five seasons, winning 11 games twice and capturing a Big Ten title in 2016. He still knows how to spell Maryland, though.
Players to know
Trace McSorley, RS senior, QB, 6’0/201, No. 9. McSorley is in his third year starting, and he’s won more games (30) than any other quarterback in Penn State history. This season, he’s completed 53.3 percent of his passes for 2,054 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. Those numbers are down from years past, but McSorley is still a constant threat on the ground. He’s got a career-high 659 yards and nine rushing touchdowns this year, and has run for a total of 117 yards in two previous meetings against Maryland.
Miles Sanders, junior, RB, 5’11/215, No. 24. Replacing Saquon Barkley is no easy task, but Sanders has done an admirable job, posting 1,095 yards (5.7 per carry) and nine touchdowns. He’s had three dominant performances this year: 200 yards at Illinois, 162 yards and a score against Michigan State and 159 against Wisconsin. Maryland has allowed 159, 157, 103 and 203 yards to opponents’ top running backs in the last four games, so Sanders could be poised for another breakout.
Yetur Gross-Matos, sophomore, DE, 6’5/259, No. 99. Penn State’s breakout defensive player has 16.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks this season. He leads the team in both categories and is second in the conference in the former and fifth in the latter. Gross-Matos had six sacks in four games before failing to record one against Rutgers, and he’s had at least half a tackle for loss in 10 of 11 contests this year.
Pass defense. Penn State is 11th in defensive passing S&P+ thanks to both an effective secondary and a daunting pass rush. The Nittany Lions allow just 186.6 passing yards per game and have come away with 13 interceptions this season. They also have 38 sacks, tied for fourth-most in the country. Big plays through the air have been especially hard to come by, as Penn State is No. 5 in defensive passing explosiveness.
Third-down offense. The Nittany Lions aren’t below-average in many categories, but this is one of the few notable exceptions. Penn State has converted just 58 of 148 third downs this season; that 37.7 percent clip is 90th in the country. The Nittany Lions’ third-and-short percentage ranks 112th, but they’re relatively a little better from long range, checking in at 51st.
Three things to watch
1. How much gas does Maryland have left? The Terps have been knocking on the door of six wins for four weeks now. In each of the previous two, they came within an eyelash of clinching bowl eligibility, but instead lost those games by a combined three points. Games like the one Maryland played against Ohio State take a lot out of both teams and can be particularly deflating to lose. It’ll be a tough task for the Terps to regroup and make another run at a ranked team.
2. Can the Terps’ defense contain McSorley? Maryland has struggled against elusive quarterbacks for a few years now, and McSorley is as much of a running threat as any signal caller on the schedule this year. His passing numbers haven’t been great, and he was quiet against Rutgers (17-of-37, 183 yards, two TDs, one pick, 39 rushing yards on seven carries). But on senior day in State College, the program’s all-time winningest quarterback might just have something special in store.
3. What can Anthony McFarland do for an encore? The redshirt freshman has been the most consistent presence in Maryland’s backfield all season, but in the last two weeks, he’s ascended to a whole new level. McFarland ran for 210 yards at Indiana, then posted 298 against Ohio State, the second-highest total in program history. That’s 508 yards in two games, vaulting him over 1,000 for the season. Maryland should lean on him heavily again, and he’s delivered almost every time lately.
Vegas: Penn State -13.5 (O/U 53)
S&P+: Penn State 32, Maryland 18
Me: Penn State 35, Maryland 24