Ngakoue, Terps look to stall Lions
Who: Penn State vs. Maryland
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
Spread: Penn State -6.5
Matchup to watch: Yannick Ngakoue vs. Christian Hackenberg
Quietly, Ngakoue is putting together one of the better seasons among B1G defenders. The junior can get after the quarterback as well as any, which isn’t good news for Hackenberg. While the Lions aren’t the mess they were at the beginning of the season up front, they still are dead last in the B1G in sacks allowed. Andrew Nelson and Paris Palmer could both find themselves matched up against the athletic Ngakoue. It isn’t even that the Penn State line needs to be perfect, it just can’t allow the Maryland defensive end to take over the game, which he’s certainly capable of doing. Hackenberg likely won’t be asked to drop back like the 50-plus times he was last year, but the Lions cannot afford to dig themselves a hole because of one pass-rusher.
Thing I’m excited to see: Mike Locksley’s debut
It’s been a weird couple weeks in College Station. Midseason coaching moves are rare in college football, especially for non-traditional powers. But Locksley will look to establish a new normal after taking over for Randy Edsall, who famously said after beating the Lions in Happy Valley last year, “Let the rivalry begin.” Locksley has a prime opportunity to boost his resume as a head coach with a win over the Lions. He already talked about expanding the offensive package for Will Likely, who has been used in space the last couple weeks. Locksley knows that to keep that Penn State defensive line off-balanced, predictable play-calling won’t work. The Terps need anything that can freeze Carl Nassib on the outside to open things up for Perry Hills to operate. If the Lions have a defensive weakness, it’s containing mobile quarterbacks. We’ll see what kind of gameplan Locksley draws up in his debut to utilize that.
Number to remember: 1
When you factor in sacks, that’s how many yards per carry the Lions rushed for against Maryland last year. At home. Something tells me Saquon Barkley will turn that around. The freshman shined in his first game back on the big stage in Columbus, going blow for blow with the likes of Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett. If a holding penalty didn’t call back a long touchdown run, Barkley would be all the rage on a national level this week. Given Hackenberg’s lingering knee issues, this is a game where Barkley could easily wind up with 25-plus carries. James Franklin wants and needs to establish the run with his talented tailback. Against a Terps defense allowing nearly 200 rushing yards per game, you can bet the Lions will put the ball in Barkley’s hands early and often.
Prediction: Penn State 21, Maryland 20
You never know how a team is going to come out after a midseason coaching change. It could be the shot in the arm the team needs, or it can divide the locker room and make it a bumpy ride to the finish. That said, I think the Terps come out firing on the defensive end. I think they get after Hackenberg right away, which prevents Barkley from getting anything going until the second half. But I think the Lion defense steps up and keeps things close early, and Barkley breaks loose in the second half to fuel a nail-biter Penn State victory.