COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WJZ) — Friday night is shaping up to be the biggest football game on Maryland’s campus in quite a few years.
The Terps, 2-1 on the season so far, welcome the rival #12 Penn State Nittany Lions to Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium, with a chance to start their conference slate 1-0. The Terps have hosted plenty of ranked teams in recent years. But this game has a bit more excitement surrounding it, based on the way Mike Locksley’s squad opened the season, showing off a brand-new, explosive offense. Then, the loss to Temple right before the bye tempered some of the expectations.
Last year’s matchup saw the Nittany Lions rip off a 38-3 win in front of the fans in Happy Valley. But, both teams are vastly different in terms of roster composition this season.
The school is asking fans to wear black to the stadium creating “blackout” conditions for the prime-time contest on Friday night. In the national spotlight, Maryland will get its chance to prove that the loss to Temple was more fluke than indicative of future performance.
“We don’t really know who Maryland is. If it’s the one that went out and scored 142 points in the first two weeks. Or is it the one that lost 20-17 to Temple two weeks ago,” said CBS Sports Network college football analyst Kevin Carter. “Rushing the football is going to be key to them moving the ball and possessing the football.”
The Terps running game has been one of the best in the country through five weeks this season, racking up 277 yards per game and averaging 5.99 yards per carry. The unit did lose some of its firepower with the news this week that Jake Funk, who was averaging over 10 yards per carry, is out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL. However, bell cow back Anthony McFarland, combined with Tayon Fleet-Davis and Javon Leake, form a potent trio capable of breaking big plays.
The visiting Nittany Lions enter with a strong defensive unit against the run, allowing opponents just over 70 yards per game and a minuscule 1.9 yards per carry through three games. Linebacker Micah Parsons leads a stout front seven that hasn’t allowed its early-season opponents to get much done rushing the football. That, according to Carter, is the key to this game.
“If you’re Penn State, stop the run. Make Maryland be creative in how they have to move the football down the field,” said Carter. “Maryland likes to be creative and be a chunk-play offense.”
Things in this game may fall more on transfer quarterback Justin Jackson who is completing just 51 percent of his passes this season. His struggles were most evident in the team’s game against Maryland when the offensive line allowed the Owls to get consistent pressure on the quarterback forcing four sacks and Jackson completing just 15 of his 38 attempts. The Nittany Lions, with pass rushers Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney, rank 13th in the country in sacks so far this year, making the Terps pass protection of even more importance this week if they are to have a chance to win.
On the flip side, the Penn State offense hasn’t consistently produced the same kind of explosive plays that they have in past years and are still finding their rhythm with new quarterback Sean Clifford and several new receivers and running backs. In the end, Carter thinks Maryland has a slight edge in this game due to the consistency they have shown in the running game so far this season.
“It’s really going to come down to who can move the football, and to me that advantage goes to Maryland, because they are leading the Big Ten in rushing,” said Carter.
Maryland kicks off its matchup with #12 Penn State under the lights on Friday, September 27th at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.