Penn State vs. Maryland
The Maryland Terrapins are one of the pseudo-rivalry opponents chosen for Penn State by former Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, so this is a cross-border rivalry game. Yeah, right! Back when Penn State was an Eastern Independent, before joining the Big Ten in 1993, the Nittany Lions would regularly square off with the Terps. Our current coaching staff also has some obvious tie-ins there, so we might just consider them regular opponents or something, but not a damn rivalry. The two teams have been playing each other since 1917 and Penn State has won 42 out of 46 games. This dominance suggests that it’s not a rivalry, just an annual beat-down.
No matter how hard its shell might be, a lion can destroy a turtle with one big chomp.
Beating the Terps
At this season’s outset, some wonks gave Maryland their best chance in years to beat the Lions; however, since then, Maryland has self-destructed in its usual fashion. The Terps have descended to a 5-3 overall and 2-3 Big Ten record. After a 5-0 start, they lost three straight, all conference games: tOSU, Illinois, and Northwestern. Losing against some of the worst teams in the league does not portend well for the Turtles.
Maryland has a minuscule chance if they can take care of the ball, which has been one of the big causative factors in the three Big Ten losses. (ESPN’s matchup predictor gives them a 16.9% chance).
Defensively, the Terps allow 109 yards rushing and 231 yards passing per game, good for #5 and #12, respectively, and #8 in total defense. If Penn State cannot get its running attack going, Drew Allar will need to step up, as will his receivers.
Offensively, Maryland, featuring big-name quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, has put up some big numbers. They rank second in passing offense in the Big Ten, behind only Ohio State. I believe that Taulia can put up some big numbers against State. However, the Terps rank eighth in rushing yards, much worse than the Nittany Lions, who rank #3, even with their anemic running game.
Can Penn State’s vaunted defense contain Taulia and his men? Obviously, the pass defense broke down against Marvin Harrison, Jr. and they allowed 269 yards passing last week to Indiana. Otherwise, they’ve been sound enough to be tied with tOSU for #3 in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions rank first in rushing defense, allowing just 74 yards per game. We saw some breakdowns in the past two games, so I hope we can rely on those issues being resolved to guarantee a win in this one.
A Win is Essential
Penn State’s offensive woes continue. They’re third in rushing in the Big Ten, behind Nebraska and Rutgers, while the passing offense is fifth The offensive line is the root of many of the problems, as usual. Run blocking is abysmal and pass protection has not been great. Many blame quarterback Drew Allar and his mediocre receiving corps. Others question why Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen are not running effectively. The blame, in this Turkey’s opinion, is misplaced. We are back to Five Traffic Cones as the central failure point of the offense.
While a loss here wouldn’t end the season, it would further demoralize what already looked like a bunch of hang-dog, half-assed competitors during the Indiana game. We sure as hell do not need that going into the game with Michigan, where we must fire on all cylinders offensively, defensively, and on special teams to avoid complete embarrassment at the behest of the Wolverines on our home turf a week from Saturday. The Nittany Lions need to show up and be ready to play. Fortunately for them, kickoff is nominally at 3:30 PM.
I would like to see what a literally explosive play looks like. I’m sick and tired of hearing about explosive plays. More vogue coach/sportswriter bullshit. These guys cannot be original. Show me a play where the ball explodes and I’ll give you an explosive play, already.
With that rant behind us, in the Indiana game we saw the first thusly described play since the season opener. We have not seen many because 1) the offensive line sucks, and 2) the receivers are mediocre, and maybe 3) Allar has been inconsistent. That we needed a 57-yard desperation pass play from Allar to Lambert-Smith for a touchdown to beat Indiana with 1:46 left is telling.
Penn State’s offense seems to be in a conservative box, understanding the limitations of its personnel. To this old Turkey, this is reminiscent of the old St. Joe “sphincter mode” of days of yore, but it is a different situation. Now, they cannot run and they cannot throw deep, so they hope to win games by dinking and dunking.
Problem is, that puts them behind the eight ball on third downs. Ask any Steeler fan what that is like. Penn State is in the middle of the pack with respect to third-down conversions. Furthermore, playing conservatively from the start tends to put them in a position of playing from behind.
I want to see them jump out to early leads and build on them, hence my frustration with this offense.
Looks to me like a typical fall day in partly cloudy College Park, with a high of 56. Advantage: no one.
Da Bottom Line
The four of you still reading my drivel know that is now time for The Official Turkey Poop Prediction, a regular pseudo-feature of the column. I describe it as awfal offal eminating from this foul old fowl’s cloaca, and worth just as much on the manure market. And that ain’t bat guano!
Our friendly bookies have established Penn State as 10-point favorites, with an over/under of 51. So, that works out to a current break-even score of 36-25. Break-even is, of course, mythical. The bookies always win. That’s a nice position to be in, don’t you think? Too bad we cannot say the same for our Nittany Lions. They needed the last-minute detonated play to score 27 and beat Indiana, perhaps the worst team in the Big Ten by the skin of their teeth. They allowed more points than they gave up to anyone all year. At home, yet! I am going with Penn State 27, Maryland 20, and I am taking the under.
So, I’ll be back after the game with my usual bullshit. Why do people start sentences with “so”? By the way, we’re at the point in the season where rankings start to matter, but we will need to wait until 7 PM Eastern time to discover how the CFP sees things. I predict that Penn State will be #10, but surprises can happen. Happy Halloween! UPDATE! The CFP sees Penn State as #11, which is getting closer to reality, but do you really think they could beat #14 LSU?