Maryland welcomes No. 12 Penn State in Friday clash

Field Level Media

September 24, 2019 at 5:25 am.

The Maryland Terrapins are quite familiar with what awaits them Friday night — though that may not help come kickoff.

For the third straight season, Maryland opened 2-0 with one of the wins against a ranked opponent, only to drop the third game before opening Big Ten play. But unlike the previous two seasons, when the Terrapins opened conference action against Minnesota, Maryland this year draws unbeaten and 12th-ranked Penn State.

There is one new twist, however, as the Terrapins (2-1) will host the Nittany Lions (3-0) on Friday night — a game Maryland athletics is dubbing “Friday Night Lights” and for which it is handing out black T-shirts at the game in hopes of creating a “blackout.”

Blackout could be a good way to describe the last game each of these teams played, at least when it comes to their offenses.

After two weeks, Maryland and Penn State ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the nation in scoring offense, at 71 and 62 points per game, respectively. In Week 3, however, both teams were held to 17 points before getting a bye to prepare for one another this week.

The difference in Week 3, of course, was the outcomes. The Nittany Lions were able to make the 17 points stand up in a seven-point win over in-state foe Pittsburgh on Sept. 14, while the Terrapins came up a touchdown short in a 20-17 loss at Temple on the same day.

While the Owls put up 277 yards and three touchdowns through the air, Maryland’s undoing against Temple was actually its run defense. In their first two games, a 79-0 win over Howard in the season opener and a 63-20 drubbing of then-No. 21 Syracuse, the Terps surrendered a total of 71 rushing yards. But Temple ran for 150 yards on 39 carries.

Penn State, on the other hand, is coming off a game in which it ran for 167 yards and a pair of scores, with junior Journey Brown providing 109 yards on 10 carries, including an 85-yarder. Brown is one of several running backs the Nittany Lions will use with regularity. Freshmen Noah Cain and Devyn Ford, as well as sophomore Ricky Slade, also have at least 12 carries apiece this season.

“We’ve got four guys that we’re going to keep playing until someone separates,” Penn State coach James Franklin said at his bye-week news conference. “The answer hasn’t really changed at this stage.”

That’s not to say the Terrapins can’t run the ball. Far from it.

Maryland is eighth in the nation at 277.3 yards per game on the ground, led by sophomore Anthony McFarland’s 225 yards and five rushing touchdowns. Javon Leake (187), Jake Funk (173) and Tayon Fleet-Davis (146) are piling up rushing yards, as well.

But a couple of key injuries suddenly have the Terps scrambling in advance of facing Penn State’s ninth-ranked rushing defense (70.7 yards per game). Coach Mike Locksley announced Monday that Funk sustained a torn ACL against Temple for the second straight season and will miss the rest of 2019. And senior right guard Terrance Davis is out four to six weeks with a sprained knee, forcing senior backup Ellis McKennie into the starting lineup.

“When you look at (Penn State) on defense, I think up front their front four are very concerning to us, along with the two inside (linebackers),” Locksley told reporters. “Their front seven is very stout, very athletic. And they’ve got a lot of experience when you look back on the back end with the secondary as well.”