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Previewing The Enemy: Maryland Terrapins

Penn State football needs a win in the worst way.

After dropping their last three contests, the Nittany Lions are officially unranked in the first College Football Playoff top 25 of the season. A brutal loss to Illinois highlights Penn State’s slide throughout October, but the team now has a chance to bounce back in College Park this weekend.

James Franklin’s group takes on a Maryland squad that’s also 5-3 on the year with a 2-3 mark in the Big Ten. Before the Nittany Lions seek revenge at Capital One Field, let’s take a look at the Terrapins’ resume.

The Team

Third-year Maryland head coach Mike Locksley has his team with the same overall and conference record as the Nittany Lions at the moment. The Terrapins opened off the 2021 slate by ripping off four straight wins, but rain into trouble with losses to Iowa, Ohio State, and Minnesota. Most recently, however, Locksley’s group took down Indiana 38-35 at home.

In the Terps’ most recent win, stud quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa threw for a career-high 419 yards. The younger brother of the Miami Dolphins’ signal-caller also managed two touchdowns while completing 26-of-40 attempts.

While its defense has seen its fair share of struggles, Maryland does have the fifth-best scoring offense in the nation. With Tagovailoa behind center and a stud wideout in Dontay Demus Jr., the Terps could provide challenges to the Nittany Lions on that side of the ball.

In case you needed a reminder, Maryland embarrassed Penn State during week three of last year’s delayed COVID-19 season. The Terps beat the Nittany Lions 35-19 in Beaver Stadium, at Tagovailoa threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Maryland went on to finish 2-3 last season due to several COVID-related cancellations, while Penn State obviously finished 4-5.

Offense

As noted, Tagovailoa is certainly the leader of this offensive unit. The redshirt sophomore from Ewa Beach, Hawaii is leading the Big Ten with 2,384 yards through the air and is second to just CJ Stroud with 17 touchdowns. Tagovailoa has thrown for at least 300 yards in four games this season, including last weekend’s record-breaking day against the Hoosiers.

Along with the success, however, the young quarterback has also thrown eight picks this year, which is tied for the most in the conference. Penn State’s defense has nine interceptions this season, which is good for fourth in the Big Ten, so that could be something to keep an eye on for Brent Pry’s group Saturday.

Despite the turnovers, Tagovailoa will have some talented options to turn to in the passing attack. Sophomore Rakim Jarrett has had a massive season thus far, as he leads the group with 31 catches and five touchdowns.

Dontay Demus Jr. was also a key role of Maryland’s receiver group earlier this season, but an injury sustained against Iowa has cut his campaign short. Even though he’s already missed extended time, he still leads the Terps with 508 receiving yards.

Jarrett is just a sophomore, but he’s a guy the Nittany Lions should know well at this point. In just his second career college football game, the Maryland native grabbed five catches worth 144 yards and two touchdowns on Brent Pry’s defense at Beaver Stadium.

Wideout Carlos Carriere has also been a valuable weapon for the Terps, as has double-digit catches and is hovering around 200 yards on the year. Carriere burst onto the scene last week against the Hoosiers with eight catches worth 134 yards and two touchdowns.

Maryland clearly has several options through the air, but the rushing attack has left a little bit to be desired. Senior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis leads the group with just 399 yards on the season and hasn’t had a 100-yard performance since the week one win over West Virginia.

The Terps’ second-leading rusher is former walk-on Challen Faamatau, who’s racked up 197 yards on 45 attempts this season. Outside of that pair, Isaiah Jacobs should expect to see time against the Nittany Lions while Peny Boone deals with an undisclosed injury he sustained against Minnesota. Boone, a former four-star recruit, was expected to be a key backup rusher for Maryland this year.

Other offensive production this Saturday could come from senior tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo. The 6’2″, 244-pound target has 20 catches for 177 yards this season along with three touchdowns.

Defense

Maryland sits at the bottom of several statistical categories on this side of the ball. The Terps are allowing an ugly 30.4 points and 402.5 total yards per game, which leaves them with one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten.

Locksley’s team grabbed the win against the Hoosiers last week, but Maryland allowed 446 total yards to Indiana, including 204 on the ground. In fact, the Terps haven’t held an opposing offense to less than 400 yards since week three.

Despite some lackluster performances of late, Maryland has several key leaders on the defensive side of the ball. Up front, defensive end Sam Okuayinonu paces the Terps with 7.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. However, Okuayinonu hasn’t managed a sack in the last three games for Maryland, so he does come to Happy Valley on a bit of a cold streak on that front.

As for the rest of the defensive line, Lawtez Rogers and Mosiah Nasili-Kite should both see plenty of time against the Nittany Lions. At defensive tackle, Nasili-Kite has managed 20 total tackles and four sacks this year, while Rogers had made 23 tackles of his own.

At the linebacker spots, the Nittany Lions should expect to see a mix of Ruben Hyppolite II, Ahmad McCullough, and Deshawn Holt. The sophomore Hyppolite is the leader of the group with 30 tackles on the season, while he also has one forced fumble on the year. Holt has split time with Branden Jennings at the WILL position thus far but was officially named as the start at that spot on this week’s depth chart.

Holt has made 13 tackles this season, while McCullough has 24 to his name. The latter of that pair stood out in the loss to Minnesota with seven total tackles.

As for the Terps’ pass defense, the group is allowing 241.5 yards per game this year. Safety Nick Cross is a star for the group, as he leads the team with 47 tackles and has even made two interceptions this year. Cross is expected to start this Saturday opposite junior Jordan Mosley, who’s just behind him with 44 tackles and four pass deflections.

The two safeties have been busy this season with Maryland’s middling run defense, while Tarheeb Still and Jakorian Bennett have both been tested at the cornerback spots as well. Still, a sophomore who was a preseason All-Big Ten selection, has 34 tackles this season, two sacks, and eight pass deflections. Bennett has grabbed two picks this season and deflected six passes.

Special Teams

Joseph Petrino is expected to handle the kicking duties for Maryland. The senior has hit all but one of his extra points this season and is 10-for-14 on field-goal attempts, with a long of 48 yards.

Junior Anthony Pecorella is slated at punter for the Terps. He’s attempted 17 punts this season for an average of 46 yards and is on pace highest single-season punting average in program history.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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