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Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Maryland Terrapins: Previews, predictions and prognostications

When: Sat., Oct. 24; 3:30p.m. ET
Where: Baltimore, MD; M&T Bank Stadium (71,008)
TV: ESPN
All-Time Series: Penn State leads 35-2-1
Last Meeting: Terps Win, 20-19 (2014)
Line: Penn State -6.5

Is the honeymoon really over for Penn State’s James Franklin? The Nittany Lions head coach is certainly feeling some heat, as his team is 5-2 and 2-1 in Big Ten play, but seem to be squeaking by. Wins against Rutgers and Indiana look good on paper, but the reality is far different.

One of these teams will walk away with a much-needed win, with Penn State sticking close to the top of the East division and Maryland holding out slim hope for a bowl game under a long-term interim head coach. While this game may not seem super interesting to the outside world, it could have major ramifications on each teams’ season.

1 Burning Question: Will There Be a Fight Left in Maryland? 

Last season the Terps came in to this game all sorts of fired up, so much so that Stefon Diggs and some others decided a little pre-game tussle was in order. Believe it or not this game used to be a nearly annual affair and the programs didn’t really care for each other. However, that tussle sent a message and so did the Terps getting a victory.

This season, things are a little different to say the least. Maryland has looked pretty much lifeless all season long and it cost Randy Edsall his job just a few weeks ago. It leaves the question of whether or not Maryland has anything left to fight with when it comes to this contest. If it wants to make this game a try rivalry going forward, getting the goat of Penn State two straight years certainly would do that. If Maryland puts up any fight, this game could be interesting.

2 Key Stats:

— 24.3: That’s the number of points scored per game by the Maryland Terrapins. It’s also more than the average scored by Penn State (23.0), and that may be really surprising to most. It also means don’t count out the Terps despite the overwhelming feeling of disappointment going on in College Park, Md. Maryland may have a tougher time scoring against Penn State’s defense, but somehow this group is managing to score more than Penn State and that can’t be ignored.

— 308.5: That is the average weight of the Maryland offensive line this season. Only the Wisconsin Badgers (310.0 lbs.) average more per offensive lineman in the Big Ten. With Carl Nassib and the rest of a really talented front seven coming the Terps way, this going to be a really interesting matchup to watch. The Nittany Lions’ front seven isn’t going up against an offensive line that is a pushover, but it also isn’t going up against the best of the best.

3 Key Players:

Perry Hills, Maryland QB: The guy seems to have found a way to be the spark plug for this offense, despite some awful passing numbers. He’s completing less than 50 percent of his passes and averaging less than 150 yards per game through the air. However, he torched the Buckeyes defense for 170 yards (75 on one rush) in the Terps’ last contest. If he can be a pest in the run game and add something of significance in the passing game, look out for a Maryland upset.

Christian Hackenberg, Penn State QB: If Maryland goes as Perry Hills goes, Penn State certainly goes as Christian Hackenberg goes. While the Nittany Lions have more of a run game to count on than the Terps do, if Hackenberg and the passing game isn’t going, the run game also falters. After setting the world on fire as a frosh, Hackenberg hasn’t lived up to the hype in terms of stats. He’s completing just 53.1 percent of his passes on the season, which is 13th of 14 quarterbacks eligible according to CFBStats.com. Maryland’s secondary is no slouch, but the pass rush hasn’t helped them out much. If Hackenberg can get some time, this could be his breakout game of 2015.

Austin Johnson, Penn State DL: While everyone is busy talking about the stars of the show, Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel, there’s another player putting up big numbers on Penn State’s defensive line. That man is Austin Johnson, who is third on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss and second on the team in sacks with 3.5. Contain Nassib and Zettel all you want, this is a three-headed attacking monster up front for the Nittany Lions defense.

4 Bold Prognostications:

— Perry Hills Passes for More Yards Than Christian Hackenberg: Last we saw Perry Hills he was showcasing his rushing ability, going for 170 yards in the loss to Ohio State. This time, we’re going to see him do some work in the passing game. So much so that he’ll outduel Christian Hackenberg. No doubt that would be surprising, considering he’s averaging 146.3 yards per game and completing just 47 percent of his passes. Hey, go big or go home, right?

— Kyle Carter Catches His First TD of the Season: For a guy who is third on the team in receptions, Carter is sure devoid of one thing — a touchdown. Look for that streak to end, as Maryland will struggle to cover any of the PSU tight ends one-on-one. Carter will likely kick off the scoring party as well…how’s that for bold?

— Penn State Will Kick to William Likely: How many times do we have to tell a team not to do it? Seriously, kicking to William Likely in any capacity is a terrible idea. While Likely may not house one this week, he’ll find a way to make Penn State pay for kicking to him with a few big returns. It will be a painful lesson for Penn State, but one they finally figure out by the second half. Let’s just hope it isn’t too little, too late.

— Carl Nassib Will Increase His Lead in Sacks and Tackles For Loss: The national leader (as well as the Big Ten leader) in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (15.5) is none other than Penn State’s Carl Nassib. Amazingly, he’s been in a hotly contested battle with Wisconsin’s Joe Schobert for the lead in both of these categories. Expect Nassib to benefit from a quarterback who likes to get outside of the pocket and expect him to increase his slim lead over Schobert in both categories.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Penn State 24-21 (61-14 overall; 33-41 ATS)
Dave: Penn State 28-21 (61-14 overall; 40-33 ATS)
Greg: Penn State 27-14 (55-20 overall; 43-30 ATS)
Matt: Penn State 31-21 (59-16 overall; 45-28 ATS)
Phil: Maryland 20-17 (16-6 overall; 8-11 ATS) *joined in Week 5

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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