Maryland Hosts PSU in Season Finale
The #10 Penn State Nittany Lions (9-2, 6-2 Big Ten) seek their tenth win of the season, while the mighty Maryland Terrapins (4-7, 2-6) are looking forward to Christmas and New Year with the family. Maryland is coming off a humiliating 17-7 loss to #17 Moo U. in driving snow last week, while PSU slept through the second half with Nebraska but still wound up beating the Cornhuskers, 56-44.
Rivalries and Pseudo-Rivalries
Although Rivalry Weekend is always replete with thrills, chills, and playoff implications, this dud is flying low under the radar, escaping media attention and almost, but not quite, is an afterthought by this here turkey. Auburn vs. Alabama, Ohio State vs. Michigan, Clemson vs. South Carolina are all worth watching. The only purpose this PSU-UMD game does is reassert my premise that the Big Ten geniuses still look upon PSU, Moo U., Rutgers, and Maryland as step-children.
Ten Wins Isn’t Enough, Already?
Nope, not for Penn State fans. And don’t count your chickens before they hatch, Turkey!
Be that as it may, this is it, the fizzling end of a season that held great promise that was dashed at the hands of the three “U‘s”: tosU, moo U, and our psUgly offensive line. We watched hopes of a playoff berth and a Heisman for our star running back bite the dust after the Nittany Lions succumbed to a brief football illness contracted in Columbus and exacerbated in East Lansing. We found out the hard way that our unbridled, cupcake-fed optimism ignored the realities of problems with not only the offensive line but also the defensive line that became apparent as the season progressed. Moreover, we found that we had overestimated the wonderfulness of the Penn State defensive secondary, who let the likes of Tanner Lee and Stanley Morgan, Jr. torch them for 399 yards.
Yea, verily. Tenth ranking nationally might well be overreach, too. Perhaps the playoff committee is giving Penn State credit where it isn’t due — ranking by reputation, rather than reason. They’re supposed to be doing this scientifically, but I still see the potential for human error. We’d never admit it if the Nittany Lions were over-ranked, as it is always the other guy whose flaws are apparent to the consummate Sanguinarian.
But I digress. We’re here to talk about this ugly game.
What’s Up with Maryland?
What can I say about Maryland? Not much. Somehow, they managed to beat Minnesota (31-24) and Indiana (42-39), but that was about it. In the Big Ten, they rank next-to-last in scoring defense and third from the bottom in total defense. Offensively, they are fourth from the bottom in total offense, but their rushing offense is ranked fifth. Finally, the Terps have claimed sole ownership of that which used to perennially belong to Penn State: the bottom of the barrel in third-down conversions.
Maryland is also awful at stopping opponents on third-down, again ranking last in the conference. They’re also last in the conference in the increasingly irrelevant statistic of Time of Possession.
So, we get it, Turkey. Maryland can run a bit and add a soupçon of passing, but can sustain but few drives, and finally, they ain’t got no defense.
Who’s Who at QB?
Injuries and graduation have decimated the already dicey situation at quarterback for Maryland. Perry Hills is gone. The Terps have already lost his replacement, Tyrrell Pigrome, and more recently, Kasim Hill. Offensive coordinator Walt Bell built their offense around dual-threat quarterbacks, so the present third-string starter, sophomore Max Bortenschlager, who is more of a drop-back pocket passer, is a poor fit. They play a fourth-stringer, Ryan Brand, a walk-on, once in a while to change the pace. (From three-and-out to two-and-a-fumble, already?)
Bortenschlager is completing 51.3% of his passes. He’s 101-197 for 1,128 yards and 10 TDs with five INTs. He’s been sacked 26 times — Maryland is next-to-last in sacks against in the Big Ten.
Offensive Weapons, So to Speak
Nevertheless, if they can get the ball to wide receiver D.J. Moore, he can burn the Penn State secondary with his speed. He is the top ranked receiver in the Big Ten, with 72 receptions for 933 yards and eight touchdowns.
Ty Johnson, the junior running back for the Terps, is Maryland’s main running threat. He’s eighth among Big Ten rushers. Although he’ll fall short of last year’s 1,000-yard season, he’s averaging 6.2 yards per carry with five touchdowns this year.
What about the Terps on Defense?
The Maryland defense has been consistently putrid against the run, and I’ve heard it said that their defensive line suuuuuuuuuuuuuucks! Their only hope in this game is to stop Saquon Barkley, which they won’t be able to do. My only question about Barkley is how much playing time he’ll get. While he’s already said that he’ll be playing in the bowl game, why play him in this dud?
Thith ‘n’ Thaaaaaat
You know it. I know it. Just in case, though, lemme say that Penn State head coach James Franklin spent eight seasons at College Park as an assistant coach on the Maryland football staff.
Anudda thing. The last time a Penn State team won 10 games in back-to-back seasons was 2008-2009.
Looks good, feels good. Forecast is for a partly cloudy, 59° day. Seems like fine football weather to me.
The Bottom Line
That brings us to our fun spot of the week, the Official Turkey Poop Prediction. This turkey, who survived Thanksgiving, wishes to give thanks to all of those who have put up with my antics during the season. It’s a lot of fun having you folks as my audience.
Our gambling friends initiated the betting with the visiting Nittany Lions as three-touchdown favorites over Maryland. The gap has widened to 22 since then, with not a helluva lot of interest by the betting community. The over/under of 58 suggests a break-even score 40-18, with PSU on the winning end.
Pondering what could be the next-to-last outing as a Nittany Lion for Saquon Barkley against the next-to-last Maryland rushing defense, I think the talented running back will want to have a next-to-last chance to help his teammates. Whether the coaches see it that way or not is the big question. I think they’ll play him for the first half, anyway, and I think he’ll get 100 yards on the ground as a matter of personal pride, in spite of the offensive line.
If the Penn State defense does its job reasonably well, and by that, I mean sacking Bortenschlager four times, covering Moore, and stopping Johnson, it could be a very good day. On the other hand, if we see the defensive debacle that was the second half of the Nebraska game, the outcome will be similar. Perhaps the Nebraska game deflated some egos now that Penn State is no longer atop the scoring defense stats, and in sixth place, just behind Indiana in total defense.
Maryland has nothing at stake here. Whether they give a token effort or play for pride (and for Moore and Johnson, NFL visibility), we won’t know until Saturday. Too many unknowns for this old turkey, so I’ll just pull one out of my cloaca. Penn State 52, Maryland 24. Take the over.