Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. Maryland
This weekend’s matchup against the Maryland Terrapins should prove to be an important one for Penn State, as the Nittany Lions enter the game on a three-game losing streak. Luckily, our staff doesn’t think the newest member of the Big Ten will present a problem for the Blue and White.
David Abruzzese (season record: 4-3): Penn State 24, Maryland 20
The Nittany Lions inspired me last weekend, which is why I’m continuing to pick them as the winner. This week, Penn State faces a talented Maryland team boasting two of the most explosive playmakers in the Big Ten.
Deon Long and Stefon Diggs will be Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown’s go to guys on Saturday. Both are dangerous, but Penn State’s primary focus should be on shutting down Diggs. He is as explosive as it gets, and will make plays all over the field. There are few players in the country who can score anytime the ball is in their hands, but Diggs happens to be one of those players. If he is not contained, then Maryland will put up points at will.
I’m very confident in this Penn State team after last Saturday’s heartbreaking loss to Ohio State, and truly believe that the team will come out with positive momentum on Saturday. Maryland’s defensive line is a step down from that of Ohio State’s, and the only player the offensive line should be concerned with should be Andre Monroe, who ranks third in the Big Ten with 6.5 sacks. Christian Hackenberg will target DaeSean Hamilton often, as he’s found a new go-to receiver. With Zach Zwinak done for the season, Akeel Lynch should step into the spotlight, and will see an increased workload. Overall, if the Nittany Lions can string together some clock-chewing drives, they should be alright.
This team is motivated, and undoubtedly pissed off as they continue their three game losing skid. Maryland is tough, but beatable at the same time. This should be a fun game to watch, but will be even better with a Penn State victory.
Ben Berkman (season record: 4-3): Penn State 20, Maryland 17
Despite the gained momentum from last week’s near victory, I think much of it will be lost due to several injuries and a depleted crowd. Ryan Keiser and Zwinak are out for the year, and a three-game losing streak coupled with a noon kickoff will likely result in a low student turnout.
Meanwhile, Maryland isn’t a great football team (nor is Penn State), but they certainly aren’t terrible. James Franklin, who was a coordinator at Maryland and recruited many of its senior starters, pointed out that the two teams match up evenly statistically. C.J. Brown poses similar dual-threat capabilities to those of Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett. Barrett scorched the Nittany Lions for two rushing touchdowns last weekend.
It should be a typically sloppy matchup of mid-rate Big Ten teams. Penn State has the better defense, even without Keiser, and should be able to pull out a close victory.
Mike Reisman (season record: 4-3) Penn State 23, Maryland 15
Don’t ask me how the numbers get the way they do, just go with it. Some people will tell you that this week can serve as a prime trap game (if you could even consider Penn State a team good enough to be trapped at this point) for the Nittany Lions after a hard-fought loss to Ohio State. To that I say, “I don’t think so,” but in a Lee Corso voice, because I’m trying to start my own catchphrase.
Maryland is a decent team, but it hasn’t shown anything that suggests it has the ability to come to a place like Beaver Stadium and beat a team that’s as good as it is, if not better. Plus, if momentum is all it comes down to, I would take the team that nearly pulled off a huge upset at home over the team that got absolutely slammed on the road.
What it really comes down to is that Penn State isn’t good enough to overlook this game — the team knows how meaningful it is and it’ll play accordingly. Maryland’s good, but coming off a huge loss, going straight to Beaver Stadium for a team that almost beat Ohio State is really not an ideal situation for them.
Jake Somerville (season record: 0-1): Penn State 23, Maryland 13
Despite last week’s loss, Penn State probably played its best game collectively against Ohio State. Maryland has given up a lot of points this season and is coming off its most lopsided loss, a 52-7 thrashing at the hands of Wisconsin. Obviously the Lions still have glaring issues on offense that won’t be solved in a week, but the line showed improvement and gave Christian Hackenberg more time to throw for much of the second half against the Buckeyes. Losing Zwinak hurts, but it means more carries for Lynch, who has been productive when he’s had the opportunity to get touches, leading the team with 5.2 yards per carry. Expect a more effective rushing attack against one of the worst run defenses in the B1G.
The Lions’ defense has shown what it is capable of all year and ignited an inspiring comeback against one of the most explosive offenses in the conference last week. Though C.J. Brown is one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the Big Ten, the Terrapins will likely struggle to move the ball. Penn State will have to do a better job with giving up short field position than it did with an embarrassing special teams effort last week, but look for the Lions to break their three game losing streak at home on Saturday.
Noel Purcell (season record: 4-2): Penn State 49, Maryland 6
I saw enough last week to turn my prediction back around. If we can keep up the combination of improvements that came about in the second half against Ohio State, Maryland should be easy. Maryland kinda sucks, and Randy Edsall is arguably the worst coach in the Big Ten (editor’s note: Edsall is not the worst coach in the Big Ten, Illinois’ Tim Beckman is), so let’s give the Terrapins a warm #B1G welcome and beat them into the ground and make them cry and such. Even though it’s a noon game, this team deserves your support, especially after last week. I have no real analysis to give other than that Randy Edsall sucks and we have more talent and a defense that can and will stifle the Maryland attack.
Tim Gilbert (season record: 4-3): Maryland 21, Penn State 20
Advanced metrics, which are stable seven games into the season, show that any talent difference between Penn State and Maryland is negligible, and the spread agrees — the -4 mark means it would be a pick ’em if played at a neutral site. Of the 128 FBS teams, maybe two or three separate Maryland and Penn State.
So, in cases like this, I go with my gut, because any extra analysis just muddies the important information. And as much as I want to say Penn State is going to win because it so desperately needs to, Maryland has struck me as a team good enough to overcome a tough environment. I also look at it this way — I would gladly sacrifice a loss here for a Penn State win.
Zach Berger (season record: 0-0): Penn State 27, Maryland 17
This is a big game for a number of reasons. James Franklin is playing a team he used to work for. Maryland is playing Penn State for the first time in just over two decades. It’s the Terrapins’ first matchup with the Nittany Lions as a member of the Big Ten. And on top of all that, Maryland would certainly like to improve on its 1-35-1 record against our team.
With two wins in the Big Ten this year (over Indiana and Iowa), Maryland is sitting pretty in third place of the East Division, just ahead of the Nittany Lions. That’s all going to change this week. The Terps aren’t bad, but they don’t really excel in any area on either side of the ball. They have an incredible receiver in Stefon Diggs, but C.J. Brown isn’t exactly anything special at quarterback and the Nittany Lions should have a field day picking on him and a mediocre Maryland offensive line.
I could give you endless analysis on every matchup in the game, but the short version of the story is that Penn State is only slightly better than Maryland. Having said that, the Terps got absolutely blown out by Ohio State, an opponent that the Nittany Lions looked every bit as good as last Saturday.
Is Maryland capable of winning this game? Sure. Will Maryland come into one of the loudest stadiums in college football for the first time in two decades and actually pull off that win? I really don’t think so.
Christian Hackenberg rebounds from his slump and racks up a ton of yardage. Akeel Lynch proves that he’s a viable replacement for the injured Zach Zwinak. The defense holds the Terps under 20 points, well below the team’s season average of 31.6. Penn State wins.
CJ Doon (season record: 3-1): Maryland 23, Penn State 21
Just based on the numbers and what we’ve seen through seven games, there aren’t two teams more evenly matched in the Big Ten this season.
Maryland’s offense has been good, but not great, averaging 31.6 points per game. Quarterback C.J. Brown is a legitimate duel-threat, rushing for 376 yards and five touchdowns this season. Stefon Diggs is a player that needs no introduction, as simply one of the best wide receivers in the country. The Terrapins will look to get Diggs the ball any way they can, and outside of Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, Penn State hasn’t faced an offensive threat quite as explosive as Diggs.
That being said, Penn State’s defense continues to thrive under first-year defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. The Lions are allowing just 17.4 points per contest, which ranks ninth nationally, and the Nittany Lions’ 284.7 yards per game is also is good for seventh nationally. Penn State, Alabama and Louisville are the nation’s only teams ranked in the Top 10 in scoring defense, total defense, and rushing defense. And last week, Penn State held the Buckeyes normally potent offense to only 17 points in regulation.
So why am I picking Maryland? Special teams. While Penn State’s defense has been phenomenal this season, the opposing team has been winning the field position battle consistently, thanks in large part to miserable punting. Penn State’s average field position against Ohio State was their own 21-yard line, while the Buckeyes average drive started at their own 38-yard line. I don’t care how good the defense is, this team is not going to be successful if the offense is constantly put in a situation where they need a long drive in order to score.
While Hackenberg showed signs of improvement last week (particularly in the 4th quarter), the offense hasn’t put together a complete game since the opening win over Central Florida. If the offense can get off to a fast start, Penn State wins. But until I see signs of improvement, I’m siding with Maryland in a close one.
Doug Leeson (season record: 3-1): Penn State 24, Maryland 20
After an offensive line performance last week that can finally described as “not too bad,” the Nittany Lions’ weakest link should (hopefully) continue to visibly improve. My prediction will go the same as the rest of mine have this season: if the offensive line performs well, the run game should have a chance, Hackenberg can showcase his elite talent, and the offense as a whole can erupt. But it all relies on that one “if.”
Maryland’s run game, while better than Penn State’s, has to match up against the elite run defense led by Mike Hull and Anthony Zettel. I don’t see the Terps scoring more than two touchdowns, barring some fluky big plays or copious Penn State turnovers.
This game should be a close, low-scoring affair early. If that’s the case, I trust Hackenberg, Bill Belton, Geno Lewis, and Big Ten Freshman of the Week DaeSean Hamilton pulling away on Maryland’s 84th ranked scoring defense, as opposed to Maryland scoring on Penn State’s 9th ranked defense.
But a lot of that is coming from the optimist in me. Maryland is not at all a bad football team. Penn State’s better, but that won’t be reassuring if the Terps end up winning. It won’t be an easy one, but I think the Nittany Lions will come out on top.