Penn State enters College Park, MD on a three-game win streak to start off the 2019 season. The Maryland Terrapins earned their first loss two weeks ago at the hand of the Temple Owls. Both teams had a bye week this past weekend. Therefore, theoretically, neither team will have the advantage of rest over the other. The kicker though for this one is that it is being played on Friday night. While both teams have had the same amount of time to prepare for the contest, it is still a change playing on a Friday night. Head Coach James Franklin stated in his press conference this week that the Friday game is “a challenge to his players’ routine.” Preparing for a Friday night is much different than a Saturday. To combat that, and the Terps, early success for Sean Clifford and the Penn State offense is key.
Success for Sean Clifford and the Penn State Offense
Early success for Clifford and the Penn State offense is key against a strong Maryland team. What did you do for the first bye week? Did you watch Penn State vs. Pitt again? Or watch Maryland vs. Temple from two weeks ago? If you watched either then you know Clifford and the Penn State offense need to start strong. Further, Franklin stated in his weekly press conference that the Nittany Lions need to do better on third down. Penn State has completed 7-of-30 third-down attempts this season. That is not good and it has to be better against a fast-paced, high scoring offense like Maryland. So, what can the offense do to assist Clifford?
Establish the Run Game
Franklin made it clear that he will not abandon the running back by committee approach this Friday against Maryland. He will be sticking with a four running back rotation. He went on to state that all of the running backs have good chemistry with one another. Further, Franklin stated that they know we are no longer in the days of playing one running back. Even Miles Sanders got the ball sometimes over Saquon Barkley. Obviously that isn’t the same situation, but you get the point.
The depth chart for this week reflects that Journey Brown is on top. Ricky Slade is second, followed by Noah Cain and Devyn Ford. Against Pitt two weeks ago Brown rushed for 109 yards. The two freshmen though accounted for the touchdowns. Cain and Ford both had one touchdown in the contest. Brown is getting the start so he needs to start fast. Even though all of the backs need to have a strong game because Franklin says they all will play, Brown needs to start to get the momentum going early.
Getting the Receivers in Space
We all understand that the receivers work best in space. Especially speedster KJ Hamler. Yes, drops have still been an issue this season, but not nearly as much of an issue as a season ago. Utilizing Hamler will be crucial to a fast start by Clifford and the Penn State offense on Friday. He has 10 receptions through three games this season for 245 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Franklin emphasized that getting Hamler in space will do wonders for the offense and special teams. He is too explosive not to add value, stated the Head Coach. Further, getting tight end Pat Freiermuth in a rhythm is also something that needs to be a priority. The sophomore only had one reception for 16 yards against the Panthers. That is not enough for the tight end. He is too talented and too integral to the offense not to be utilized more. Getting both Hamler and Freiermuth targeted early will help Clifford and the offense start fast.
Protecting Clifford More
The Nittany Lion quarterback was sacked three times against Pitt two weeks ago. Further, he was sacked three times against Buffalo. The Maryland defense is too talented for the Penn State offensive line to not be cohesive and in sync on Friday. There is too much experience on the line in Michal Menet, Mike Miranda, Steven Gonzalez, and Will Fries for this unit not to make progress. Clifford needs to be given time to get the ball out and on target. He has a strong arm and the accuracy is improving, but he needs to be given time to succeed. Hopefully, the bye week is just what this group needed to figure out how to get him the time he needs and open holes to get the run game going.
Clifford and the Penn State offense Need to Start Strong
The Maryland Terrapins scored 142 points through their first two games this season. They are fast, they return 11 starters from a season ago, and they found a taste of winning. Yes, the Terps only scored 17 points two weeks ago against Temple, but do not underestimate their ability or the environment. Clifford and the entire offense need to start strong and fast. The Nittany Lion defense is very talented, but even the best defenses cannot do it alone.