Behind Enemy Lines: Penn State

After a disappointing game on the road against Wisconsin, the Terps will head to Happy Valley for their final road game of the season to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Terps are 6-3 overall on the season and 3-3 in conference play with three games left on the season. The Terps will be looking to bounce back after last weeks 23-10 loss to the Badgers. This week I talked to Jon Sauber of the Centre Daily who is close with the Penn State football team to see what us Terps fans should be ready for and look forward to this Saturday.

John Gugs: With Penn State, there has been a lot of speculation about who will be starting at quarterback in this game. How do you see the quarterback situation playing out on Saturday?

Jon Sauber: I think this ends up looking a lot like it has all season for the Nittany Lions. Sean Clifford will likely start and if it gets out of hand then Drew Allar will come in for some reps. While there are plenty of people calling for a change at the position, at this point it seems highly unlikely one happens anytime before the season ends barring an injury.

JG: In both of Penn State’s losses, the team was only able to rush for 111 yards. How important do you feel it is for the run game to be successful in order for the offense as a whole to be successful?

JS: I think it’s important if only because the running game is less prone to mistakes and the Nittany Lions tend to run the ball when they go up. Their accumulation of yards in wins is partially because the game script dictates that they run more, but also because the ball is in Clifford’s hands less. He’s a mistake-prone quarterback so asking him to manage the game rather than win it leads to higher rushing totals in wins.

JG: The Penn State defense nearly averages two forced turnovers a game while the Terps offense averages one turnover a game. How important do you see the turnover battle being on Saturday?

JS: The turnover battle is always an emphasis for Penn State and I expect that to be the case this weekend too. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz puts an emphasis on being aggressive and part of that is attacking the ball, whether it’s in the opponent’s hands or in the air. It helps that the team’s star safety — Ji’Ayir Brown — is an elite ball hawk thanks to his football IQ and ability to attack the ball in the air. He tied for the nation’s lead in interceptions last year and has three again this season.

JG: This season, the Terps offense is a daily balanced offense. In the past they’ve been a pass heavy team but with the balance they’ve become harder to defend. How do you expect Manny Diaz to defend against the Terps offense?

JS: I expect him to be aggressive and try to force the Terps into situations where they become predictable and have to throw the ball. That means bringing pressure on early downs in order to get Maryland into third-and-longs and trying to get the Terps behind the sticks. That’s usually the goal for the Penn State defense and I don’t expect that to change this week. Diaz will try to make Maryland play on his defense’s terms.

JG: With both schools being close and tend to end up fighting for a few of the same players in recruiting, what is the vibe and energy around the team heading into the game against a regional foe?

JS: There hasn’t been a noticeable difference from the Penn State side of things this week. James Franklin spoke about the ties between the two teams Wednesday night because of the recruiting territory similarities, but said they tend not to focus on things like that. There doesn’t seem to be any animosity or anything like that from the Nittany Lions’ side as far as I can tell.

JG: What is your final score prediction and why?

JS: I went with Penn State winning, 31-21. I could see Maryland pulling off the upset as double-digit underdogs if the offense can get going early and get up a couple of scores. The key there is making Clifford win the game with his arm. I don’t expect that to happen, however, and believe Penn State will do enough offensively while its defense applies pressure and makes the Maryland offense uncomfortable for most of the game.

The Terps will head to Happy Valley to try and pull off the upset and get their seventh win on the season. The game will kick off at 3:30pm this Saturday and will air on FOX.

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