No. 14 Penn State Football returns to Beaver Stadium, playing host to the Big Ten East rival Maryland Terrapins on Saturday, Nov. 12, looking to build momentum on a blowout victory over Indiana last Saturday afternoon.
For this week’s version of Behind Enemy Lines, we talked to Emmett Siegel who covers Maryland for SBNations Testudo Times, to get a feel for what the Nittany Lions should expect to see from the Terrapins.
1. Initial thoughts on Penn State vs. Maryland?
Siegel: Maryland wants this game to be a rivalry, but as the players have said all week, it can’t really be one unless the Terps start winning more often. This game, on paper, looks like another Penn State win, but it wouldn’t be the first time this season that Maryland went onto the road and competed with a highly-ranked team (Maryland lost by a touchdown at Michigan earlier in the year).
Maryland hasn’t played up to its capability lately, as it struggled to put Indiana and Northwestern away and was run over by Wisconsin in recent weeks. The Terps have to play Ohio State next week, so they could be looking at a three-game losing streak if Saturday doesn’t present a favorable result.
On the other hand, Penn State has played very well since its loss to Michigan and everything is shaping up for the Nittany Lions to finish the season with a 10-2 record. Maryland is good enough to give them a challenge, though. I would be just as unsurprised if this game is a one-score contest as if it’s a three- or four-score one.
2. Who on offense should Penn State be concerned about?
Siegel: Maryland’s passing attack gets the headlines because of Taulia Tagovailoa and his collection of talented wide receivers, but running back Roman Hemby has almost single-handedly won a few games for the Terps this year. He has emerged, as a redshirt freshman, as one of the best running backs in the Big Ten and one of the best young backs in the country.
A lot of Hemby’s success can be attributed to Maryland’s experienced offensive line. Against Wisconsin last week, the unit was shorthanded and got manhandled, unable to establish the run, especially early. In comparison, the Terps’ game against Northwestern — a lesser defensive front — saw Hemby go for 172 yards and three touchdowns.
If Hemby gets going, Maryland could be in business on the offensive side of the ball.
3. What did you take away from last year’s battle?
Siegel: Maryland, at least talent-wise, is not as far behind Penn State as has been the case in years past. After beating the Nittany Lions in 2020 — albeit in a COVID-stricken season in front of an empty stadium — the Terps competed with Penn State for three-plus quarters. The difference in the last two games has been wide receiver play — Penn State couldn’t slow down Rakim Jarrett in 2020 and Maryland couldn’t catch up to Jahan Dotson in 2021.
Both Penn State and Maryland are better this year than last. Of course, “Penn State better” and “Maryland better” are different things, as Penn State being better than last year means being one of the top 15-or-so teams in the country while Maryland being better means no longer being one of the punching bags of the Big Ten East. The talent gap is steadily closing with Maryland recruiting well under Mike Locksley, but there’s still a difference between where Maryland and Penn State stand in the general college football landscape.
4. For those who don’t follow Maryland, what makes this matchup interesting?
Siegel: This game has huge recruiting implications for the DMV. The area is one of the best producers of talent anywhere in the country, and both teams often find themselves competing for the region’s top players. While the result of the game on a year-to-year basis may not be a huge determinant of where these players will go, the perception of how the two teams stack up plays a major role.
Maryland’s close loss to Michigan earlier in the season did wonders for the way people look at the state of the program. Terps fans had become accustomed to getting blown out by the top programs in the Big Ten, and escaping that does a lot to sell recruits on the vision that Locksley has. If Maryland can beat Penn State, it’ll prove that coming to College Park instead of State College isn’t just about staying close to home or getting early playing time, but also about competing with the nation’s best.
5. What is one reason why Maryland will defeat Penn State?
Siegel: If Maryland’s going to walk out of Beaver Stadium with a win, it’s going to be because it forced timely turnovers. The Terps’ defense has been outstanding in the second half of games this season, and a lot of that can be tied back to its ability to take advantage of mistakes by opponents.
Sean Clifford has weapons at his disposal that will be difficult for Maryland to contend with. Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen are good running backs that could shred a struggling Terps run defense if they find a groove. But, if Maryland can steal a few possessions, either by picking off Clifford or forcing a fumble or two, it’ll go a long way in not only slowing the Penn State offense down, but also building confidence for Maryland’s defense. A fast start will be key for setting the tone Saturday.
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