Penn State, Maryland enter rubber match on similar paths
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) When DJ Durkin and James Franklin spoke about their teams earlier this week, they sounded nearly identical praising young, up-tempo offenses led by dual-threat quarterbacks and highlighted by playmaking running backs.
Whichever one takes the next step will have to come at the expense of the other. Penn State (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) hosts Maryland (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) on Saturday in what's become arguably both team's biggest rivalry to date. The teams have split the past two games, each decided by one point after a combined 11 lead changes.
''I think both teams are going to be going into that stadium on Saturday fired up and excited,'' Franklin said. ''They are coming in undefeated. We played an undefeated team last week. We are coming off a big emotional win where the guys just kept fighting and persevering.''
The Terrapins are seeking their first 5-0 start since 2001 and are averaging 43.3 points per game. Quarterback Perry Hills, like his Penn State counterpart Trace McSorley, has found a groove behind an offensive line that features three former walk-ons.
''He can beat you with his feet and his arm,'' Durkin said. ''He's doing a great job of doing what we ask him to do. He's playing with confidence. If he makes a mistake, he can't wait to get back out there.''
Hills didn't throw his first interception until last week and isn't making many other mistakes. His supporting cast has made it easier on him, including a group of running backs that are averaging over 8.5 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, McSorley is trying to do the same thing for Saquon Barkley by forcing teams to back out of the box. Penn State's talented tailback hasn't ran for 100 yards since the season opener.
Penn State's defensive line appears to be coming around. Tackle Kevin Givens has looked better with each game and ends Torrence Brown, Evan Schwan and Garrett Sickels have all made plays on the edge where they were burned earlier this season.
They could be in for another game where their containment is tested. Maryland's Ty Johnson has been the Terps' most dangerous outside runner. He tortured Purdue for 204 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries last week.
If they can keep Johnson in check, Penn State's defensive line will have a shot to get after Hills. Maryland's offensive line has allowed nine sacks in the last two games.
''Even though they may be a little bit undersized, they're incredibly active,'' Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell said. ''They have great ball get-off and they have great short-area quickness up front. That'll be a real test for us, especially inside.
CORNERBACK PROS AND WOES
Maryland cornerback Will Likely hasn't let his size deter him against Penn State's bigger receivers in the past. He's got seven tackles, an interception and a forced a host of other incompletions or look-aways covering Nittany Lions DaeSean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall who have big height and weight advantages against the 5-foot-7, 175-pound corner.
Likely's hurt Penn State as a returner, too.
Already down a handful of linebackers, Penn State is hurting at corner now. Starter Christian Campbell left the Minnesota game with a left leg injury and is doubtful for Saturday. The team's fourth corner, Amani Oruwariye is also questionable with an undisclosed injury.
Expect longtime reserve Jordan Smith to play a larger role. He was good against Minnesota with an interception, two pass breakups and four tackles.
IN AND OUT
Franklin hoped the team would get good news on the hand injury that's kept linebacker Jason Cabinda out but he is out for this game. His replacement Brandon Smith will return to the lineup after leaving the Minnesota game early. Defensive end Curtis Cothran will sit out the first half and be eligible to return in the third quarter, a continuance of a targeting penalty from last week.
Penn State has 11 players from the state of Maryland while the Terps boast 10 Pennsylvanians on their roster. In total, 117 players from both states line both rosters.
''It's always fun playing those guys especially since I know a couple on the team,'' Maryland defensive lineman Azubuike Ukandu said.