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Opponent film breakdown: Scouting No. 12 Penn State

The Terrapins will look to right the ship on Friday night against a top-15 team.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football started the season off with a bang, but a road loss to Temple put a damper on the mood in College Park as the Terps went into their bye week.

On the other side of that break, Maryland is set to host No. 12 Penn State (3-0) on Friday night at Maryland Stadium.

Here is a look at what to expect from the Nittany Lions on Friday.

A speedy and powerful defense

Similarly to Maryland, Penn State has exhibited a tremendous defense in 2019 that’s been in the shadows of some big offensive performances.

The Nittany Lions come in to this Big Ten matchup allowing just 10 points per game as well as an average of 70.7 yards on the ground. These numbers are a direct result of the speed and power that the team possesses on the defensive end.

While no team has been able to take down Penn State through three weeks of the 2019 season, there have been some lapses discovered in the team’s most prized side of the ball.

In week two, Buffalo was able to devise a running scheme that allowed their backs to find holes up the middle, since stretch plays were often stopped by Penn State’s defensive ends.

For Maryland, getting a push from the offensive line and allowing its host of running backs, led by Anthony McFarland Jr, to get to the second and third levels will open the door for big plays on the ground and subsequently in the air.

The defensive line for Penn State has wreaked havoc in the passing game so far in 2019, accounting for 3.67 sacks per game. Against Pittsburgh last time out, the Nittany Lions were exposed though as their pressure on third downs was predictable at time, opening the lanes for a short dump off to running back AJ Davis for a big gain.

Defense is quite clearly the foundation for this Penn State team, but its stake is mostly in the defensive line. Unlike facing Temple, getting into the second or third level would be more beneficial in terms of big plays.

New faces on offense

Penn State started its season off with a 79-7 win over Idaho, followed by a 45-13 showing against Buffalo. As mentioned previously, these offensive numbers overshadowed a powerful defense, but should also not be taken lightly.

Last time out against Pittsburgh, the Nittany Lions also slowed up on the offensive end, although they came out with a 17-10 victory.

The last few season have been a case of familiar faces on the offensive side of the ball beating up on opponents, but this year is all about new faces. With quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Miles Sanders making jumps to the NFL after the 2018 season, the likes of quarterback Sean Clifford and a host of running backs are trying to step into some pretty big shoes at the same time.

James Franklin runs a hybrid version of the West Coast offense that is mixed with some power run elements from back in his time with Maryland under Ralph Friedgen. As seen in the above touchdown against Pittsburgh, the Nittany Lions use horizontal movements to help keep the defense spread out and allow backs or receivers to make plays.

An offensive set like this is dangerous because its doesn’t rely on players to necessarily carry the team. Sean Clifford is still working on his commanding presence, and a host for five running backs have all scored touchdowns as a part of the offense through three games this season.

When it comes to a true threat, Maryland needs to lock in on wide receiver KJ Hamler. The junior is a true all-around talent, who has a hand in rushing, receiving and returning kicks. Last season against the Terps, Hamler tallied a modest 90 yards on three catches, but will be due for more targets this time around. With Maryland defense coming off of a tough road loss, look for Franklin and his staff to try and beat Maryland early by spreading the ball to their best skill-position players.

The bottom line

Similar to Maryland’s matchup against Temple, Friday’s matchup is between two teams that have boasted powerful offenses, but are driven by defense.

For Maryland, getting a push from the offensive line and combatting the Penn State defensive ends will be paramount for the run and passing games, while minimizing the big play and forcing Clifford into tough situations can get the defense off the field.

Whichever team, if either team, is able to jump out to an early lead, it will be hard to fight back. Look for Mike Locksley and James Franklin to get the ball to their playmakers early, but a close game could result in more conservative play down the stretch.