Previewing Maryland-Penn State football with a Nittany Lions beat reporter

The Baltimore Sun
Will Penn State-Maryland ever be a football rivalry? We asked a reporter from behind enemy lines.

Back for a second season, we'll be previewing each of Maryland's football games by conducting a Q&A with a reporter who covers the Terps' next opponent.

This week, we traded emails with Mark Wogenrich, the Penn State beat reporter for The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa. Be sure to check out more of their coverage here before the Terps and Nittany Lions kick off Saturday at noon from State College, Pa.

TRACKING THE TERPS: There are two ways a team can go after the type of loss Penn State suffered Saturday. Do you think the comeback gives the Nittany Lions a confidence boost heading into this week, or might that outcome stunt their preparation for Maryland?

MARK WOGENRICH: How Penn State lost that game will fuel not just confidence but also anger. Watching the Big Ten explain two officiating errors helped restore a chip the team carried for parts of the last three years. Penn State will play angry Saturday; not sure if that translates to better, but the team won’t be subdued.

Also, one new concept James Franklin introduced this season was Sunday practice. Penn State had Sunday off for years, but Franklin uses the session to 1) run out the lactic acid and 2) put the previous game to bed. Players say the practice helps them recover, both physically and mentally.

It looks like quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s play has really tailed off during Penn State’s three-game losing streak. Is that a product of tougher competition, or is there something in particular that he’s struggling with?

His offensive line. Penn State has allowed 25 sacks this season, two more than it did in 2013. The line was a known concern before spring drills, when its most experienced player (fifth-year senior guard Miles Dieffenbach) sustained a torn ACL. Seven months after the injury, Dieffenbach could return Saturday. Having him on the field, even if for only 15-20 plays, will help.

In the absence of consistent pass protection, or any sort of run game, Hackenberg often has overplayed his hand. He has made a number of bad-decision interceptions in the name of “just trying to make a play.” Defenses know that they can get to Hackenberg with a straight four-man rush, so often they’ll drop seven into coverage and wait for him to force a throw. Hackenberg did look good on Penn State’s game-tying drive against Ohio State, though. So the talent is still there; he just needs patience and a little help.

Much has been made about the possibility of Maryland and Penn State developing some sort of border rivalry. Do you see that happening, or will Penn State always have bigger fish to fry in football?

There can be only so many border rivalries to angry up the blood. The feud with Ohio State (and the Big Ten) intensified last week, and Rutgers did its best to get on Penn State’s bad side. And most older Penn State fans still dislike Pitt – just because.

The fact that Maryland has beaten Penn State  once, 53 years ago, won’t help quickly  bind a feud, eiither. Terps need a few more wins.

Can you give us a key player from Penn State we should keep an eye on Saturday?

Linebacker Mike Hull is playing out of his mind right now. He had 19 tackles and an interception against Ohio State and still lamented the missed stop he made in overtime.

Hull (6 feet, 225 pounds) isn’t a big guy for a middle linebacker, but he makes plays on both sides of the line of scrimmage. He has 7 tackles for loss, chased down Michigan’s Devin Gardner from behind and is excellent in coverage. This week, coach James Franklin said Hull is playing as well as any linebacker in the country, "college or NFL." Hyperbolic, sure, but you’ll hear his name plenty Saturday. 

And a prediction?

Penn State hasn’t won in six weeks, so that team will be a fireball. Guessing that’s the edge against a similarly talented team. Penn State, 20-17.

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