After stewing for two weeks over a disappointing loss to Temple, Maryland finally gets back onto the field for its biggest matchup of the young season. The Terps host divisional foe Penn State on Friday (8 p.m., FS1) in what will be a "blackout" game at Maryland Stadium.
Here are six things to know for Friday’s game.
Maryland has not beaten Penn state since 2014
Make no mistake, this is a huge game for Maryland, but it may be too soon to call it a rivalry.
“We’ve got some work to do for us to be able to call it a rivalry,” head coach Mike Locksley said, per 247 Sports. “You can’t wish and make a game a rivalry. The only way it gets to that point is by competing and having success. So I wouldn’t say that it’s a rivalry yet because we haven’t been consistent enough or have won enough for us to even get to that point.”
All the ingredients for a rivalry are there. These two teams are part of the same division and the schools are only about four hours and 200 miles apart. There’s the James Franklin factor as the now-head coach at Penn State was named Maryland’s “coach in waiting” to succeed Ralph Friedgen in 2009. There are 11 players from the state of Maryland and nine players from Virginia on Penn State’s roster, while six Terps hail from Pennsylvania. There’s even some ugly history between the two. In the 2014 matchup, Maryland’s captains refused to shake hands with Penn State during the pregame coin toss after a scuffle in warmups.
But if this is ever going to be a rivalry, Maryland has to start winning some of these games. The Terps lost to Penn State 38-3 last year and 66-3 in 2017.
We still don't know how good Maryland’s offense really is
Things could not have gone better for the Terps offensively in their first two games. The team was averaging 71 points per game, they set a school record for most points in the first two weeks with 142. Against a ranked Syracuse team, Maryland amassed 354 rushing yards and 650 total.
Things were very different against Temple. In that game, Maryland was held to 15 points, 161 rushing and 340 total yards.
Quarterback Josh Jackson has eight touchdown passes and only two interceptions, but he is also completing just 51-percent of his passes.
So was Temple a blip on the radar or were the first two games the outlier? The overall stats for Maryland are impressive, but also remember the context. We just don’t know which is the truer representation of who the Terps are yet this season.
Penn State doesn’t have the rushing advantage for the first time in a long time
One reason for Penn State’s dominance of Maryland in recent years has been the run game. The Nittany Lions have had a significant advantage in that area in their recent matchups.
In 2018, Penn State had 310 rushing yards against the Terps. They had 286 rushing yards in 2017 and a whopping 372 rushing yards in 2016. Maryland hasn’t outrushed the Nittany Lions since 2015.
This year, however, the Terps have the ground advantage. They rank 8th in the country with 277.3 rush yards per game.
Through the first three games of the season, Penn State ranks 48th in the country in rush offense with just 192 yards per game. Considering how much of a factor this was the past three years, the fact that the Terps have a clear advantage on the ground heading into Friday's game is not insignificant.
The key matchup will be Maryland's rush offense vs. Penn State’s defense
The Terps want to run the ball. Penn State knows that. Howard did too and loaded the box in an attempt to force Maryland to pass. The result was a huge game for Jackson, but he will not be able to exploit a much better Nittany Lion secondary the way he did against Howard.
If Maryland wants to run the ball, they are going to have to work to open up a defense that held Pitt to just 24 rushing yards in Penn State’s last game.
Last year, Penn State held Anthony McFarland to just 12 yards on six carries and Javon Leake had only 34 yards on 11 carries.
Jackson struggled against Temple when the team needed him the most, so if Penn State is able to shut down the run like they did last year, Maryland is in a very tough spot.
Maryland’s time to strike is the first half
Penn State has left the door open for opponents in their last two games with a slow-starting offense. The Nittany Lions scored only 17 combined first-half points against Buffalo and Pitt so if Maryland wants to take control of the game, the time to do it is in the first half before that Penn State offense gets rolling.
Penn State has a dominant red-zone defense
Against Temple, Maryland got into the red zone six times and managed only 13 points. That’s not going to cut it on Friday when they play against a defense that excels in putting up a wall in the red zone.
Penn State has allowed only seven red-zone possessions in three games this season. In those seven possessions, the defense has only given up three touchdowns.
When Maryland gets into the red zone on Friday, they are going to have to walk away with points because the Nittany Lions are not going to give them many opportunities.