The Maryland football team lost to Penn State, 31--30, on Saturday, but not everything was bad. The Terps showed some genuinely positive things against the Nittany Lions, even as genuinely negative things held them back.
Here's some of what worked and what didn't, and what to expect as 2-5 Maryland visits Iowa next weekend.
What we saw last week – Maryland vs. Penn State
1. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, and turnovers. Did I mention turnovers? Maryland had five of them – three Perry Hills interceptions and two coughed up fumbles, plus a Brad Craddock missed field goal that functioned as a sixth giveaway. Maryland probably doesn't have the talent to win games when turning the ball over more than once or certainly twice, and it speaks to Penn State's general ineptitude that Maryland stayed within a single point in spite of its turnover misery. The Terps could really be onto something if they cut this out, but they've got a long way to go.
2. Perry Hills played well. Those turnovers are an important qualifier hanging over all that comes next, but: Hills was a force on the ground for a second-straight week, notching 124 yards on 26 carries. Unlike what felt like some dumb-luck success against Ohio State, Maryland clearly purposed Hills as a main part of its running game, and Hills delivered against a stout defense. He also threw for 225 yards on 19-of-28 passing, which isn't great but is plenty to win a game against a Big Ten opponent if you aren't throwing interceptions.
3. Yannick Ngakoue has very officially arrived. Ngakoue has been a known stud for about a year now, and maybe it's wrong to gush over defensive lineman for dominating against Penn State's permeable offensive line. But Ngakoue was a wrecking crew. He sacked Christian Hackenberg twice and repeatedly exploded the NIttany Lions' edge running attempts. Ngakoue has thrived against bad offensive lines, but also good ones. He worked on Michigan tackle Mason Cole with good success a few weeks ago, then played a sturdy game against Ohio State's Taylor Decker. Meeting Penn State's wretched line must have felt like a picnic.
What we're looking for this week – Maryland vs. Iowa
1. Iowa's going to get tons of big plays. Maryland did a fine job bottling up running back Saquon Barkley against Penn State, but Christian Hackenberg and his receivers blew the lid off Maryland's secondary time and time again. The Terps gave up 10 chunk passing plays of more than 14 yards to Penn State. Maryland has had serious trouble defending vertical passing all season, and Iowa has developed a highly un-Iowan degree of explosiveness on offense.
2. Maryland's probably going to turn it over some more. Iowa is No. 22 in the country in takeways, with 15. Maryland is No. 127 and worst among all power conference teams in giveaways, with an outrageous 24. Some things don't require deep analytical foresight to predict, and this is one of those things. Iowa is going to take a few footballs out of Maryland players' hands.
3. A chance to be the spoiler. Iowa is undefeated. Iowa! For the sake of the moral fiber of Middle America, this is not something that should continue. Maryland could restore some natural order to the planet by getting a win on Saturday, and the Terps would be worthy of national – nay, global – appreciation if they could prevent the coronation of Undefeated Iowa.