COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Maryland coach Michael Locksley admitted his team needs to handle the role of a favorite a lot better than it did the past couple games.
That won't be an issue this week, when the Terrapins face an entirely different challenge.
No. 9 Penn State comes to College Park to face the Terps on Saturday, a week before the Nittany Lions host a showdown with No. 2 Michigan. The matchup with Maryland looms as a potential trap game, especially with the Terrapins on a three-game losing streak — but still dangerous thanks to the presence of quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa.
“Really good player," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "Obviously, statistically, he’s number one in every category at the University of Maryland. They’ve have some good quarterbacks all the way back to Boomer Esiason and Frank Reich, and a ton of guys that have played there.”
Maryland's trajectory has been positive for most of the past 2 1/2 seasons under Locksley, but that changed last month. The Terrapins entered their game at Ohio State with a 5-0 record and gave the Buckeyes trouble before eventually losing. Then Maryland (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten) was a double-digit favorite against Illinois and Northwestern — and lost both games.
“What our team has to do to take this next step to become a championship-type program is we've got to be able to learn how to play when you are the favorite, when you are expected to win," Locksley said. "And those expectations are ones we're not going to shy away from.”
Penn State (7-1, 4-1) is two weeks removed from a loss at Ohio State, and the Nittany Lions had their issues in a 33-24 win over Indiana last weekend. But Penn State was No. 11 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings and still has plenty to play for.
The Penn State-Maryland series dates to 1917 and the Nittany Lions have dominated, going 42-3-1. Two of the victories by Maryland have come since the Terps joined the Big Ten, in 2014 and 2020.
Locksley and Tagovailoa were part of that win three years ago, but Penn State won at Maryland the following season and then shut out the Terps 30-0 in 2022.
Aside from KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Penn State’s receivers have been pretty quiet.
Tre Wallace and Dante Cephas have just 15 and 11 catches, behind Lambert-Smith’s team-leading 43.
Although quarterback Drew Allar has depended on a talented tight end room that’s combined for an FBS-best 10 touchdowns, Franklin still wants to see another wideout step up.
Cephas, Liam Clifford and Malik McClain will likely get more chances after Wallace was hurt trying to haul in a pass last week in the first quarter. He did not return and Franklin didn’t have an update on his status this week.
“It’s about consistency,” Franklin said. “The guys that are starting or playing significant reps are the guys that have shown the most consistency in practice and shown the most consistency in games.”
Even after losing to Ohio State, Maryland had every reason to think it could be 7-1 by the end of October. The fact that the team still hasn't secured bowl eligibility is a disappointment.
The remaining schedule for the Terps includes the matchups with Penn State and Michigan, so their situation could go from bad to worse, but facing teams like that also presents opportunities to salvage something impressive from this season.
“We're a team that, we talked about being ready to compete for a championship, but obviously we're just not there yet,” Locksley said. "But that won't stop us from continuing to do the necessary work to get us to that point.”
NOT UP TO PAR
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s group has hovered at or near the top of every major statistical category all year, so it irked Penn State defenders when Indiana racked up a handful of big scoring plays a week ago.
The Hoosiers scored on 90-, 69- and 26-yard passes and averaged 6.58 yards per play.
Defensive tackle Dvon Ellies called it a “humbling experience” but feels like he and his teammates have made the necessary corrections.
“There was a lack of communication on some of those plays and that was just great execution by Indiana and poor execution on our part,” Ellies said. “I think that falls on the defensive front, as it always does. I think we could be more stout, being more violent just coming off of blocks. Just being better on our end.”
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football