It’s been more than a month since Penn State won a game.
Consecutive losses to Iowa, Illinois and Ohio State have turned the Nittany Lions from Big 10 championship and college football playoff contenders to a fringe Top 25 team just hoping for a decent bowl game.
Penn State looked good in a loss at Ohio State and now will hope to finally get its sixth win at Maryland. Here is what the Nittany Lions have going for and against them Saturday.
What Penn State has going for it
For the most part, quarterback Sean Clifford looked like his usual self at Ohio State, bouncing back from a miserable performance against Illinois in which he was still recovering from injury. There’s no reason Clifford shouldn’t continue to play well against Maryland.
Aside from Indiana, the Terps have given up more points than anybody in the Big 10 and are ranked just 10th in pass defense.
Jahan Dotson is Jahan Dotson. The senior receiver is coming off another strong performance, as he caught 11 balls for 127 yards last Saturday. Additionally, sophomore receiver Parker Washington had one of his best games of a Nittany Lion, with nine catches for 108 yards.
With no rain forecasted in College Park and temperatures slated to be in the 50s throughout the game, the weather isn’t likely to hurt either offense. With good fall weather and a struggling defense, it seems the only thing that can stop Penn State’s offense from scoring is itself.
The Nittany Lions should have more of a challenge on the other side of the ball. Led by quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, the Terps have been explosive at times in 2021, with a fast-paced attack that is tied for fourth in the Big 10 in points per game.
In Maryland’s three losses, however, the team has scored just 14, 17 and 16 points, respectively, and Tagovailoa only eclipsed 200 yards passing in one of those games– a 66-17 loss to Ohio State.
With Penn State’s defense playing well all season and even throughout this losing streak and Maryland’s offense having minimal success against quality competition, it’s easy to see the Nittany Lions keeping Tagovailoa in check as well.
What Penn State has going against it
Penn State’s leading rusher last week was John Lovett. He carried the ball 13 times and gained 20 yards.
It wasn’t a fluke, either. Penn State is struggled to run the ball all season, and if the Nittany Lions are to get upset Saturday, it’s hard to imagine the running game not being a reason.
Although the weather conditions should benefit Penn State’s offense, the same goes for Maryland’s offense. While it’s true that the Terps have gone cold against every good Big 10 team they’ve played, the Nittany Lions learned firsthand how dangerous Tagovailoa can be last season when he torched them for three touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 97.2 that still stands as his career-best.
Penn State’s defense also had a draining game against Ohio State, and if any effects linger into this Saturday, Maryland can take advantage.
Penn State fans and writers have expressed concerns that the Nittany Lions, as double-digit favorites, will play down to their competition like they did against Illinois. I don’t see it.
The Nittany Lions have lost three in a row, and every game is huge for them. With a Big 10 championship possibility already up in smoke, every loss from here on out increases the chances of 2021, like 2020, becoming a wasted season. Because of James Franklin’s history with Maryland and the fact that Penn State has many players from Maryland, this game will always have meaning for the Nittany Lions and won’t be something they take lightly.
I expect Clifford and the offense to pick apart Maryland, and while the Terps might get their fair share of points as well, Penn State’s defense and its secondary especially are too good not to hold its own.
And while Penn State is on the road, even that could work in its favor to an extent. College Park and State College aren’t far from each other, and given that Penn State fans generally travel well, there should be a solid Blue and White contingent at Maryland Stadium, something Terps coach Mike Locksley expressed concern about earlier this week.
The Nittany Lions need a win. They’re due for a win, and although both teams have the same records, Penn State is better than Maryland, and that will be apparent Saturday afternoon.
Score prediction: Penn State 34, Maryland 20