Nittany Lions on the hunt for revenge vs. Maryland

Written by Frank Bodani/York Daily Record | Oct 22, 2015 12:49 PM

The Nittany Lions will be greeted by another friendly crowd Saturday in Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. But will the passing game finally begin to truly click against Maryland? That includes struggling tight end Mike Gesicki, shown here after the victory over Indiana in Beaver Stadium. (Shane Dunlap - For The York Daily Record/Sunday News)

(Undated) -- The Nittany Lions are entering a crucial three-game stretch that could very well define their season.

They must win as much as possible before those final, back-to-back games known as the Battle of Michigan.

First, though, there is a short trip to Baltimore for Saturday's most intriguing re-match with Maryland.

So much has changed since that chippy, high-emotion day last October in State College that ended in a bitter one-point loss for the Lions -- perhaps the loss that stung the most. The pregame featured a shoving match, a personal foul penalty and those Terrapins refusing to shake hands at the coin toss. Afterward, former head coach and York Count native Randy Edsall celebrated one of his most satisfying victories with lots of on-field hugs, high-fives and handshakes.

Now, so much has changed ... or has it?

Penn State's standout defensive line has only gotten stronger with the dramatic progress of ends Garrett Sickels and Carl Nassib.

Then there's the sudden emergence of tailback Saquon Barkley, maybe the most talented true freshman runner at Penn State in more than 20 years.

That all provides an interesting juxtaposition to those skidding Maryland Terrapins. They fired Edsall after too many blowout losses featuring an array of turnovers and a defense around the bottom of the Big Ten rankings.

Now, even with an extra week to prepare and the potential shot of energy and focus from a new leader, Saturday seems like an overwhelming task with so many leaks to plug. Plus, that "home game" in M&T Bank Stadium could feature half blue and white anyway.

If nothing else, how are the Terps supposed to halt Barkley, who tore up the No. 1 team in the nation for 194 yards? (Maryland is ranked 99th nationally, giving up 197 rushing yards per game).

"I think our offensive line is improving, I do," said Penn State head coach James Franklin.

"I'd also make the argument we were still able to run the ball when we didn't have Saquon and Akeel (Lynch). So I think that speaks to the improvement that the offensive line is making, but Saquon has some traits that allow him to take it to a whole other level."

And yet, in other ways, Saturday may not seem so different from the last time these two teams met.

Overall, the Penn State offense is still struggling with a clunky pass game and a banged-up quarterback. It still is susceptible to a heavy pass rush, which the Terps can bring with force.

On defense, the Lions continue to struggle with quick, decisive running quarterbacks, which the Terps offer in Perry Hills.

And, once again, Penn State is coming off an energy-draining, prime time loss to Ohio State. Last year, Penn State followed that up with one of their most uninspired and disjointed efforts of the season.

How will this team respond now? If the Lion lose Saturday many would see their hopes of a winning record and a bowl game of any sort quickly plunge.

And yet this really is just one more step in the re-building process -- just a more emotionally-invested step than most.

Take it from Nassib, the quintessential builder and over-achiever.

"You know, I was just talking to my mom about this. People work hard for a while and expect results to come out like that," he said, snapping his fingers.

"It's difficult to work hard every day for long periods of time and not really see the fruits of your labor proliferate until later in life. But those are the really lucky people ... (who) have strived to be the best they can be, and one day they look at themselves and they are. I want to be one of those people ..."

Sure enough, Nassib will lead these ever-growing but questionable Lions against a team with even more uncertainty.

With the opportunity to take that next important step forward, and maybe even re-capture some of what they let slip away a year ago.

This article comes to us through a partnership between York Daily Record and WITF.

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