The pipeline of attracting Maryland high school players to Penn State goes back to before James Franklin’s first season as head coach, in 2014. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who spent 18 seasons in Happy Valley before leaving the Nittany Lions at the time of Franklin’s hiring, was a master recruiter in the Maryland suburbs of D.C.
The Lions dressed 14 players from Maryland for last Saturday’s game at Ohio State, including six starters, so there’s a sense of excitement as those players take the field in their home state Saturday against the Terps.
“It means a lot,” said defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo, a native of Gaithersburg, Md., who transferred in after last season from Duke. “I’m excited to play at home. I’ve never really played in Maryland.
“I have my friends and family that will be out there. I don’t know how many, but my mom’s going to make it as many as possible. I’m just excited to go back to Maryland, compete, and play a great game against those guys. They’re a great team.”
Franklin also has ties to Maryland, having served as wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator from 2000 to 2004, then returning in 2008 and spending three seasons as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
“The time that I spent there on and off for eight years … that’s a lot of time there,” he said Wednesday night. “My one daughter was born there. My wife worked on campus in the admissions office. I still have a lot of friends and relationships. That was a big growth time in my career, both personally and professionally.”
Franklin hopes Penn State’s shortest road trip (198 miles) for a Big Ten game will result in the end of the Lions’ three-game losing streak, a shot at a better bowl game, and a happy trip back to campus.
Finding their stride
The Nittany Lions lost their third straight game last week at Ohio State but played their best game in weeks, challenging the Buckeyes for the first three quarters before the home team dominated the clock in the fourth. The Lions must carry that momentum into Maryland and they cannot afford a letdown. They saw what could happen last year when then-redshirt freshman Taulia Tagovailoa passed for 282 yards, much of it in the first three quarters, to lead the 27-point underdog Terps to a 35-19 win at Beaver Stadium.
Another secondary test
Penn State’s secondary will be tested by an explosive passing attack for the second straight week. Tagovailoa threw for 419 yards in last week’s 38-35 win over Indiana and engineers the Big Ten’s No. 2 pass offense, with 2,384 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Nittany Lions hung in for the most part against Ohio State, allowing three catches of 30 or more yards and 305 yards through the air, but their pass rush got little pressure and no sacks against quarterback C.J. Stroud. That must improve on Saturday, as well as penalties against defensive backs. Joey Porter Jr. drew flags for a late hit, pass interference, and holding and needs to be more under control.
The other guys
While Maryland owns the same record as the Nittany Lions, it has just one victory over a team (Kent State) with a winning record. The Terps’ combined score against common ranked opponents — Iowa, Ohio State — add up to defeats totaling 117-31, games Penn State lost by a total of 12 points. Their offense statistically is better than the Lions’ in average scoring (29.2 to 26.5) and total yards (431.1 to 375.1), but an area where the visitors may be able to capitalize is turnovers. Maryland has thrown nine interceptions, eight by Tagovailoa, and lost five fumbles, standing minus-6 in turnover differential. Penn State has 14 takeaways, including nine picks, and is plus-4.
The Terrapins have a pair of fine skill players in redshirt senior Tayon Fleet-Davis, who has rushed for 399 yards and six touchdowns and has caught 21 passes, and sophomore wide receiver Rakim Jarrett (31 catches, 463 yards, five TDs). Jarrett scored on TD catches of 42 and 62 yards last season against the Lions. The Maryland defense ranks 10th or worst in the Big Ten in most major categories but has 23 sacks, with 280-pound Sam Okuayinonu leading the way with five. Two Philadelphia-area defensive backs, Jordan Mosley (Haverford) and Tarheeb Still (Timber Creek), are second and fourth, respectively, in tackles.
Keys to the Game
Turnovers. Sean Clifford cost the Lions 10 points with a fumble on a sack that resulted in a 57-yard return for a touchdown, and an interception that set up a fourth-quarter field goal. Clifford now has eight interceptions on the season. Running back Noah Cain lost a fumble on the Lions’ initial play of the game, the first fumble turned over by the Lions all season. Penn State has claimed at least one turnover in 14 consecutive games, the sixth-longest streak in FBS, and third-longest among Power 5 teams.
Offensive efficiency. The Nittany Lions’ running game showed signs of life early against Ohio State before becoming a non-factor for much of the last three quarters. Still, they were able to convert 11 third-down plays in 18 opportunities, mostly with the pass. The Terps allow an average of 161 yards on the ground, 13th in the Big Ten, and Penn State must take advantage of any weakness it can find to run the ball more and keep it away from Tagovailoa.
Prediction: Penn State 45, Maryland 24
No. 22 Penn State at Maryland
Saturday at 3:30 p.m., Maryland Stadium, College Park, Md.
TV/Radio: Fox Sports 1; WCAU-AM (1210)
Line: Penn State by 10.
Records: Penn State (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten); Maryland (5-3, 2-3).
Coaches: Penn State, James Franklin (eighth season, 65-31). Maryland, Michael Locksley (third season, 11-20).
Series: Penn State leads, 40-3-1, but lost, 35-19, last year to the Terrapins at Beaver Stadium. In their three games before 2020, the Nittany Lions outscored Maryland, 163-6.