Nittany Lions need to show command up front
Five things to look for as Penn State closes the regular season looking to finish 10-2 against a struggling Maryland team.
No. 1: Dominate trenches
This has been a hugely disappointing season for PSU’s offensive and defensive lines, but both have a chance to dominate today because the Terps aren’t very good up front on either side.
If by chance injured left tackle Ryan Bates can return on the O-line, it would provide the unit a big boost and a chance to get back to a level of familiarity. If the line can have a good day, it would be a springboard into bowl prep, and the line certainly will have to play well in that contest when the Nittany Lions go up against an outstanding opponent.
There also has been hope that injured defensive end Ryan Buchholz might be able to make it back, and if he does today, it would be a big plus.
Kevin Givens has started the past three games at end in Buchholz’s absence and has done admirably, but he’s still much better suited for tackle at this point.
No. 2: Stuff the run
Maryland doesn’t throw the ball well at all, so look for PSU to do what other teams do against it, which is load up on the line of scrimmage and focus heavily on shutting down the run.
The Terps have a solid running back in Ty Johnson (805 yards), but he has fallen victim to his team’s lousy passing attack.
Johnson opened the season with 132 yards against Texas and 124 against Towson, then 130 in game four against Minnesota. But with Maryland losing several quarterbacks to injuries and being so poor in the passing game, Johnson hasn’t had much room to run lately. He has just 143 yards over his past three games.
No. 3: Fast start
Maryland is finishing out a miserable season, having lost six of seven. But this is the Terps’ senior day, so they’ll be inspired.
Penn State has been an excellent first quarter team all season, and if the Lions jump out on top early, there’s not much chance the beleaguered Terps will have much chance to fight back.
Don’t be surprised if this one is over by halftime.
No. 4: Save Saquon
There’s no longer a need to have Saquon Barkley returning kickoffs, since his Heisman Trophy hopes are basically gone and those yards won’t really help much.
Frankly, Penn State can win this game easily even if Barkley doesn’t do a ton on offense. He will get some touches and make some big plays, but there’s no reason to overuse him and risk him taking a bunch of hits in the final regular-season game of his career.
Penn State has plenty of other weapons, and this could wind up being a huge day for Trace McSorley.
No. 5: Players to watch
PSU: I’ll go with McSorley, for reasons stated in No. 4.
Maryland: The Lions can be beaten through the air, so maybe the Terps coaches will let Max Bortenschlager air it out 40-plus times and see what happens. What have they got to lose?
Prediction: Penn State 41, Maryland 13