Penn State Football

Here’s what you should keep an eye on in the Penn State-Maryland football game

Maryland has surrendered 215 rushing yards or more six times this season. That could mean a big day for Penn State’s Saquon Barkley.
Maryland has surrendered 215 rushing yards or more six times this season. That could mean a big day for Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. Centre Daily Times, file

Penn State and Maryland’s long-standing series hasn’t been close.

The Terrapins won in 1961 and 2014; that’s it. The Nittany Lions have won the 37 other meetings, and in 13 games played in College Park, Penn State has outscored Maryland 425-146.

If the Nittany Lions are going to widen that differential, these keys may prove to be important:

Run-down run defense

Head coach DJ Durkin — Michigan’s former defensive coordinator — is a bright guy. But the Terrapins can’t stop anyone (good) from running all over them.

Against teams ranked at the time or currently ranked by the College Football Playoff committee, Maryland is 0-6 while allowing 235.83 rushing yards per contest. The only team out of Central Florida, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan State and Michigan not to record 200 rushing yards or more were the Wolverines. They racked up 160.

Maryland has surrendered 215 rushing yards or more six times this season. The Knights (250), Buckeyes (281), Badgers (215), Spartans (271), Wildcats (238) and even Rutgers (239) all did it.

After Penn State ripped Nebraska for 263 yards last weekend, the Nittany Lions are primed to do the same against Maryland’s awful run defense.

McSorley magic

After posting 325 yards last weekend, quarterback Trace McSorley has a legitimate chance to break his own single-season Penn State passing record.

McSorley now has 2,991 yards through the air this season and needs 624 to pass his record-setting mark from 2016.

Can McSorley get 300 or more against the Terrapins and give himself a reasonable shot at setting a new standard during the bowl game? It might be tough. Because Maryland’s run defense is that bad, teams haven’t needed to throw it on the Terrapins — who’ve allowed 300 passing yards or more in only three games this season.

But if Maryland tries to sell out and stop Barkley, McSorley could stuff the stat sheet.

Dangerous D.J.

Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore received 11 scholarship offers as a three-star prospect out of Imhotep Prep in Philadelphia, per 247 Sports. Penn State was not one of the teams that offered.

A lot of programs wish they had pulled the trigger on Moore.

The 5-foot-11 junior has racked up 933 receiving yards on 72 catches — both best in the Big Ten. His eight touchdown grabs are tied for tops in the conference with Michigan State’s Felton Davis, Iowa’s Noah Fant, Nebraska’s Stanley Morgan and Ohio State’s Johnnie Dixon.

Moore has the ability to pop off. He had 133 and 210 receiving yards against Texas and Northwestern, respectively. But he’s consistent. The 215-pounder has recorded 75 receiving yards or better in eight of 10 games this season.

The Nittany Lions have had success against Moore — holding him to 24 and 15 receiving yards in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

But considering how this season’s going for Moore, fully expect him to be heavily targeted on Saturday.

Under the radar

Statistically speaking, Maryland running back Ty Johnson hasn’t really impressed recently. He’s averaging only 56.3 rushing yards per game over his last seven.

But the big-play possibility is there for Johnson.

Among Big Ten running backs, he’s third in scrimmage plays of 30 yards or more with seven. Johnson’s tied with Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins and Michigan’s Karan Higdon. Saquon Barkley leads the way with 16, and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor has eight.

Because of Maryland’s position in the Big Ten and Johnson lacking face-value stats, he’s not getting the same attention as Barkley, Taylor, Dobbins or Higdon.

But Johnson is a talented back. Penn State saw as much in 2016, when his 66-yard touchdown catch was Maryland’s highlight in a 38-14 loss.

Gesicki on a roll

Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki made history last weekend.

The senior broke Ted Kwalick’s program record for receiving yards by a tight end. Gesicki’s 47 yards against Nebraska put him at 1,384 for his career, 41 more than Kwalick — an eventual three-time Pro Bowler in the 1970s.

The New Jersey has a good opportunity to add on that new Penn State record. Maryland has been iffy against guys like Gesicki, allowing a pair of tight end touchdowns to Michigan a couple weeks ago.

With Gesicki’s recent form — 22 catches in his last four games — it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 6-foot-6 mismatch give Maryland headaches.

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9

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