Game Preview: Maryland Terrapins at Penn State Nittany Lions

By Nick Polak on November 6, 2020 at 9:30 am
Oct 30, 2020; College Park, Maryland, USA; Maryland Terrapins quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa (3) throws from the pocket during the first quarter against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
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Well, I warned you last week, folks.

With last week's loss to Ohio State, Penn State moves to 0-2 on the season, and is now out of the AP Top-25 for the first time since the week before its upset win over the Buckeyes back in 2016. It's unfortunate, but the Lions did themselves no favors by continually shooting themselves in the foot at Indiana, sealing their fate. Now they must rebound against a team that they've dominated in recent years and get their first 2020 W on the board.

  Penn State Maryland
2020 Record 0-2 1-1
Head Coaches James Franklin (80-40, 56-25 with Penn State) Mike Locksley (7-41, 5-15 with Maryland)
Kickoff 3:30 PM EDT 
Television BTN
Stream Fox Sports Go
spread Penn State -25

Finding the Good In the Bad

In many ways, the second half of the Penn State-Ohio State game on Saturday was reminiscent of the second half of the Penn State-Michigan game in 2019. In both cases, the team that was losing to begin the half still lost the game, but there were very tangible signs of an offense that was starting to "get it".

The Nittany Lion offense, after completing just two passes in the first 30 minutes, came out looking like a different team after the break. The first drive of the half in particular (which you can find in the link above) was a thing of beauty. Clifford was throwing confidently, which is something we hadn't seen him do since his injury back in 2019.

Typically in a game where you were outclassed for most of the night, you'd want to not linger on the tape too long. But there was more than enough good for Penn State to take away from its week two loss. The only question going forward will be whether or not they are able to learn from what they see and start to get the offense rolling.

A Very One-Sided Matchup

If you've paid attention at all over past few years, you know how one-sided this Penn State-Maryland matchup has been. The Terps haven't scored in the double-digits against the Lions since a 14-point outburst in 2016, which was the last time they found the end zone against PSU. Since that 2016 contest, Maryland has been outscored by a total of 201-20. That includes a shutout last year after the school canceled classes on the Friday of the game to try and build up hype. "One-sided" only somewhat sums up what has happened. 

Of course, this is a new year and a new team. There's no KJ Hamler to legitimately make defenders look like they're wearing ice skates. There's no Micah Parsons to lead the defensive charge. And on the other side, while they lost some important pieces due to graduation, transfers, and opt-outs, this Maryland team has some spunk. That much was evident a week ago as they defeated Minnesota in overtime, overcoming a 17-point fourth quarter deficit.

However, as timid as the Nittany Lions always look when they face Ohio State, is as confident as they look when they face Maryland. That confidence could be enough to fuel another beatdown. 

Containing Tagovailoa

Amidst the losses they sustained this offseason, the Terps can at least be happy that they've appeared to find their quarterback of the present and the future in Taulia Tagovailoa. Tua's little brother, the Alabama transfer who followed Locksley to College Park, had a rough go a week one smackdown at the hands of Northwestern, but looked much better against the Gophers a week ago.

The sophomore was very efficient through the air (26/35 for 394 yards) and effective with his legs (8 carries for 64 yards). It's hard to really know how impressed to be given that Minnesota's defense looks like it might be a disaster, but the raw numbers are impressive nonetheless. Still, he and the offense struggled mightily against a much better Northwestern defense. Brent Pry's defense certainly hasn't been perfect through two weeks and he was completely out-game planned by Ryan Day and the Ohio State offensive staff, but if his group can keep Tagovailoa contained, then this should be pretty straightforward for Penn State.

Grab a beer and have a laugh while reading the Testudo Times Comments If.

  • Sean Clifford and the passing game pick up where they left off against Ohio State. Clifford looked to be finding his rhythm in the RPO game against the Buckeyes, and against a team that won't have nearly as potent a pass rush with its down linemen, if he looks confident and under-control, the offense will soar.
  • The Penn State linebackers, led by Jesse Luketa, are able to keep Jake Funk contained. The senior has started red hot, averaging 9.3 yards per carry through two weeks. The Nittany Lion run defense was much improved with Luketa, and having him back should help corral the Terp rushing attack.
  • The Lions play confidently. A week ago, they just didn't look like themselves at the start of the game. Perhaps it was the opponent, perhaps it was missing its defensive leader in Luketa, perhaps it was the sheer weirdness of being in an empty Beaver Stadium. Whatever the reason, they looked lethargic. If they come out looking energized in this one, it will be a great start.

Start looking forward to...a Jim Ferry-coached PSU Basketball team if...

  • The Tagovailoa-Funk combination continues to pick up yards in large chunks. The Penn State linebackers, talented as they may be, are still inexperienced. If this duo is able to keep the Terps ahead of schedule on offense, it could open up just enough to let the passing game hit on a few throws.
  • The Penn State offensive line struggles. Again. Through two weeks, Clifford has been abused in the pocket by opposing defenses. Rasheed Walker and Will Fries on the edges have been mostly fine, but the interior of the line, which was supposed to be a strength, has been anything but. This group needs to be better if Penn State is going to salvage its season.
  • Penn State's special teams continue to be unremarkable. The Lions finally completed the multi-year journey from embarrassing, to average, to great when it comes to special teams a year ago, but they seem to be regressing a bit. Jordan Stout has been a solid punter and still has a huge leg (love you Jordan) but Jake Pinegar's two misses in Week One changed the game, and the return game has been nonexistent.

Prediction in gif form

If you could have given the Penn State team and coaching staff the choice of any opponent to be walking into town on Saturday, I'd bet that most, if not all of them would choose Maryland. The Nittany Lions just own this matchup and they act like it.

Penn State fans have been waiting to see what a Kirk Ciarrocca offense with the talent assembled on this roster can do for months, and I think we finally really start to see it in Week Three. There were enough tangible steps taken against Ohio State to make me think that if the line can just give Clifford slightly more time to process what's happening, big things are coming from this group.

I think this Terps team is decent enough, and I think their future is bright with Tagovailoa at the helm, but this is a perfect "get-right" spot for Penn State and I don't think they let it pass them by. I have the Lions getting themselves into the win column and jumpstarting their season.

Penn State 48, Maryland 10

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