Four undefeated teams remain in the Big Ten heading into Week 6. It’s not at all surprising that Michigan and Ohio State are two of the unbeaten squads given their hype during the preseason, and Nebraska is historically one of the best college football programs in the country, so their inclusion in the undefeated ranks won’t shock too many people either.
However, the fact Maryland doesn’t have a loss yet might raise some eyebrows. The Terrapins haven’t won more than seven games in a season since 2010, and all that stands in their way of a 5-0 start is the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Penn State is coming off a big overtime victory against Minnesota, so the Nittany Lions would more than love to continue their momentum, but it’s going to be tough keeping up with the new high-powered Maryland offense.
New head coach D.J. Dunkin and offensive coordinator Walt Bell have the Terrapins offense humming on all cylinders early this season. Maryland is averaging 466.3 yards of offense per game, which is 100 more yards than they averaged last season and fourth-most in the Big Ten.
An incredible 300 of those yards per game are on the ground. Maryland has a three-headed monster in the backfield with senior Trey Edmunds, sophomore Ty Johnson and freshman Lorenzo Harrison III. All three have at least 150 rushing yards and average more than 6.5 yards per carry. They also have combined to score eight rushing touchdowns.
Johnson put up an absolutely ridiculous performance last week, rushing for 204 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries. He averaged an unheard of 29.14 yards per rush, as Maryland blew out Purdue. After that performance, Johnson took the team lead with 333 rushing yards and is averaging close to 12.0 yards per carry.
Penn State is going to have its hands full with Johnson and the rest of the Maryland rushing attack. The Nittany Lions allow an average of 216.6 rushing yards per week, which is ranked 12th out of 14 Big Ten schools. Penn State is actually right in front of Purdue, who yields an average of 226.5 rushing yards per game. Of course, that average includes the Terrapins’ 400 yard rushing day against the Boilermakers last Saturday.
Simply put, the Nittany Lions are going to struggle mightily to stop the run.
Maryland senior quarterback Perry Hills takes a backseat to the running game, but he’s been efficient with the ball and avoided major mistakes. Hills has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for an average of 7.5 yards per attempt, five touchdowns and one interception. He throws for only 137.5 yards per week, but that’s just enough to keep defenses honest.
Although the offense is stealing the headlines, Maryland is far more than just a great rushing team. They also play very good defense, as they are rank in the top four of the Big 10 in total yards and points allowed. Additionally, the Terrapins are fourth in the conference with 14.0 sacks and a 30.88 percent conversion rate allowed on third downs.
Penn State ranks dead last in the Big Ten in rushing offense, so for the Nittany Lions, this game will again fall into the hands of sophomore signal caller Trace McSorley.
If Maryland has a weakness on defense, it’s in the secondary. Two of the Terrapins’ starters in the defensive backfield are sophomores, and every nickel and dime cornerback for Maryland is either a first or second-year player.
The Nittany Lions will have to spread them out and rely upon McSorley to score points through the air. If he has success moving the ball, Penn State will also have to take advantage of the subpar Maryland red zone defense. The Terrapins have yielded a touchdown on 7-of-11 defensive red zone possessions through the first five weeks.
The first two meetings between these two programs once Maryland switched to the Big Ten have been decided by one point. Don’t expect that kind of close game this weekend unless Penn State finds a way to slow down the Terrapins rushing attack.