The budding rivalry between Penn State and Maryland continues this weekend as the Nittany Lions host the Terrapins in Big Ten East play. This will be the third meeting between the old rivals since Maryland joined the Big Ten, and Maryland will head into the game with its third different coach in the renewed series, as DJ Durkin looks to continue his good start in his debut season at the helm.
The importance of this game is not to be overlooked as both Durkin and Maryland and James Franklin and Penn State look to establish the upper hand in regional recruiting battles on the field. The road team has won each of the past two seasons and the rivalry between the two programs continues to grow. What will this season’s matchup in Happy Valley have in store?
Maryland at Penn State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 8 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Maryland -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Maryland is nearly automatic inside the red zone
A year ago, Maryland was next to last in the 14-team Big Ten in terms of red zone scoring percentage. The Terps converted just 26 of their 32 red zone trips for any kind of score, be it a touchdown or a field goal, in 2015. Only Illinois struggled to score points inside the red zone more than Maryland, among Big Ten teams (Oddly enough, Ohio State was 12th in the conference inside the red zone). If there is one thing that has been drastically different through the first four games of Maryland’s season, it is the red zone success rate. Maryland leads the Big Ten in red zone scoring percentage, converting 94.74 percent of their red zone opportunities for scores (tied with Minnesota). The Terps also are fourth in the Big Ten in red zone touchdown percentage, with 73.68 percent of their trips inside their opponents’ 20-yard line resulting in a touchdown.
2. Jesse Aniebonam could be a real problem for Penn State’s offensive line
Penn State’s offensive line continues to be a pretty valid question mark any time the Nittany Lions take the field, although there has been a sign of some improvement this season. This weekend, they could have their work cut out for them as Maryland’s Jesse Aniebonam has been off to a pretty solid start wreaking havoc on opposing offenses this season. Aniebonam already has recorded four sacks, good for third in the Big Ten. He should be a handful for Penn State’s O-line.
3. Can Penn State finally avoid a slow start?
Through the first four games of the season, Penn State has been outscored in the first half by a combined score of 79-51. That includes a 28-0 shutout in the first half at Michigan two weeks ago and last week’s 13-3 deficit at home against Minnesota. Penn State has developed a bit of a knack for starting slowly and then coming on in the second half, which is a credit for being able to make adjustments and hanging in there, but it is an area that can cost Penn State in a big way. If Maryland can establish some drives on the ground, the Terrapins can wear down Penn State’s defense. Teams that can spread the ball around can lead to a sloppy start all-around by the Nittany Lions. Getting an early touchdown drive should be essential for Penn State.
Maryland has all sorts of momentum on its side as the Terrapins head north of the Mason-Dixon line this week, and there should be no reason to be intimidated coming in, especially with a playmaker like defensive back/return specialist Will Likely. That said, Penn State is still going to make some plays that can swing a game in its favor in the second half, as has typically been the case this season. Penn State picking up a win last weekend at home gave this team a little bit of a confidence boost, and Maryland will have to find a way to keep running back Saquon Barkley from tearing its defense up. Barkley rushed 20 times for 65 yards against the Terps last year, but he has improved since then and should be a bigger factor this time around.
Prediction: Penn State 33, Maryland 31
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.