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Behind enemy lines: Q/A with Black Shoe Diaries ahead of Maryland - Penn State

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Get to know the No. 12 Nittany Lions before Friday night lights.

Pittsburgh v Penn State Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The first Big Ten game of the season is almost here for Maryland football, and it faces a tough opponent to start the slate. The Terps face No. 12 Penn State, hoping to reverse their recent struggles against one of the best teams in the conference.

We talked with Dylan Callaghan-Croley of Penn State’s SB Nation site, Black Shoe Diaries, to get some inside info on the team ahead of Friday’s contest. We also answered a few of his questions too, and that will be up shortly on the site.

What’s life like without Trace McSorley?

Life without Trace McSorley for Penn State so far has been one of lessons learned. There’s a lot Penn State can now do without Trace McSorley behind center and there’s a lot that they can’t do that they may have been able to do with him. The biggest takeaway is that without McSorley, Penn State’s pass blocking has to be much stronger than it has in years past. With McSorley, the offensive line was able to get away with much more, this year, not so much. Sean Clifford has mobility but not at the same level as his predecessor. That being said, Clifford is a much better passer than McSorley when it comes to accuracy and arm strength. When Clifford is calm and collected, he can light up any opposing defense. Look for the Nittany Lions to show off his arm strength against the Terps.

How does this year’s Penn State team compare to the past two seasons?

This year’s Penn State team on paper, is more talented that being said. Two years ago, Penn State had one of it’s greatest teams ever and there’s no denying that. The 2017 Nittany Lions were a special, special team, that just wasn’t able to get the job done (in terms of winning Big Ten Championship, making the playoffs). That being said, this team is more similar to the 2018 team. It’s not a finished product and it has its’ kinks that it has to work out but the pieces are there for it to be successful. Penn State got in their own way plenty of times last year and if they want to have a chance at a Big Ten title this year, that’ll have to come to an end. This team may not be as flashy as the last three years but they have all the pieces there to be contenders. The question now is, can they take that step forward?

What are your biggest takeaways from the first three games of the season?

My biggest takeaways through the first three games of the season is that Penn State is a very talented and very good team but there’s still quite a bit that they needed to clean up. They’ve had two weeks to work on that so we’ll see how it’s helped them coming into Big Ten play. They have a plethora of playmakers but have struggled getting the ball into those playmakers hands. They must do so going forward. Other notable takeaways include the performance of both the offensive and defensive lines. The offensive line once again has struggled in 2019 when considering their opponents while the defensive line has performed well but not nearly to the level that fans expected entering the season. We’ll see if anything changes on Friday night.

Maryland has had issues in the secondary. Besides KJ Hamler, who should the Terps look out for?

You’re right, KJ Hamler is the biggest name to know and rightfully so. That being said, Hamler through three games has just ten touches and that’s something the coaching staff has mentioned wanting to work on during the bye week and going forward. They need to get Hamler the ball more, there’s no way around it. That being said, other notable passing targets are sophomore Jahan Dotson, redshirt freshman Justin Shorter, and sophomore tight end Pat Friermuth. Dotson had a breakout game against Buffalo in week two and reminds many Penn State fans of a recent Nittany Lion who is also the programs all-time receptions leader, DaeSean Hamilton. Shorter, on the other hand was the top rated wide receiver in the 2018 recruiting class. That being said, after being banged up for most of last year, he’s still looking for his breakout game. Finally, there’s Friermuth or as Penn State fans call him, “Moose”. Moose, is simply one of the country’s best receiving tight ends and is always a threat to get the ball, especially in the red zone. He’s a special tight end and like Dotson, reminds fans a lot of another Penn State great, this time, current Miami Dolphin, Mike Gesicki.

What makes the Nittany Lion defense so dangerous?

The Nittany Lions defense is so dangerous mostly due to the defenses overall athleticism and speed. No matter what position you’re at, they have speed and talent at a level that Penn State has never seen before. Penn State isn’t at the level of Ohio State, Georgia, and Alabama recruiting and player wise but they’re starting to look like other elite programs such as LSU on defense. Anywhere you look, you see players that will not only make an impact in college but also at the next level. Some of those names are Yetur Gross-Matos, Micah Parsons, Tariq Castro-Fields, and Garrett Taylor. All four of those players will go onto play in the NFL and both Gross-Matos and Parsons have the opportunity to be first round draft picks when they enter the NFL Draft.

Two years in a row, a Penn State running back has been drafted. How does this crop of backs compare to those guys?

This crop of running backs is highly unproven. Penn State has a group of guys in the backfield that may be among the most talented in the nation but they have only really had three games to prove it. With that, they’re also splitting carries, which doesn’t give any of them a chance to really stand out. Right now, the two that are doing the most with their carries have been redshirt sophomore Journey Brown and true freshman Noah Cain.

Who’s one unsung player that Terp fans should keep an eye out for?

One unsung player that Terps fans should keep an eye for this week is that of running back Noah Cain, a name we mentioned above. Cain was the Nittany Lions best running back against Pittsburgh and has four touchdowns in three games this season. He’s not the flashiest but he has all the potential in the world to be a superb running back. He could be in store for a breakout game on Friday.

Prediction time: Who wins this one and how?

I think this is a close one that Penn State is able to control of in the second half after a very close first three quarters. I think Maryland shows that they’re a team that’s for real in 2019 but they’re just not at the level needed just yet to beat a team as talented as Penn State. I think this is a 34-24, 37-24 type game.

Thanks again to Dylan for taking the time here. Be sure to check out Black Shoe Diaries for everything Penn State, and follow the site on Twitter, too.