STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- There's a sign near the overpass that leads from the Maryland football team house to the practice field.
It reads: "The run-and-shoot is kind of new -- but Terps outscore the Penn State Blue." Beside the sign, these words are scrawled on a board: "Sept. 26, 1-3 Beaver Stadium. Terps win 4th quarter and Penn State War."
It all sounds a little cocky, especially since Maryland has not beaten Penn State since 1961. But that's the attitude Maryland (0-3) brings into today's game against No. 9 Penn State (3-0) at 1 p.m. in Beaver Stadium.
"Every player on our team knows about Penn State, the tradition," said Frank Wycheck, Maryland's junior slot receiver, who has been cleared to play today despite a sprained neck. "Everyone also knows that we have not beaten them since 1961. We have no trouble getting up for Penn State. Every Maryland player is willing to put it on the line against that team."
For a lot of the Maryland players, beating Penn State has become a personal challenge. Twenty-six of the Terps are from Pennsylvania. Some were recruited by the Nittany Lions.
Some were not.
In either case, they feel they have something to prove.
"Pennsylvania is known for football, and all the big-time players are recruited by Penn State, Notre Dame or Miami, that's just the way it is," said Wycheck, from Philadelphia. "When you're a youngster, every kid wants to go to Penn State.
"And if you end up going somewhere else, you want to get on Penn State's schedule just to let those guys know you got away, but you could play for them."
Despite not winning since 1961, Maryland has played Penn State remarkably close. Excluding last year's 47-7 loss, the previous nine games were decided by a total of 53 points, with the teams tying, 13-13, in 1989.
But first-year coach Mark Duffner has said he did not come to Maryland just to get close.
The Terps have been close in their first three games under Duffner, blowing fourth-quarter leads in losses to Virginia, North Carolina State and West Virginia. Last Saturday against West Virginia, Maryland had a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter only to lose, 34-33.
A win over Penn State would not make up for the losses, but it could get the Terps a lot of respect.
"I think everybody involved in our program is frustrated, and that's the way it should be," said Duffner, who had a 60-5-1 record in six seasons at Holy Cross before coming to Maryland. "We're not going to get comfortable with losing. What we're going to do is take all that frustration and turn it into positive energy."
"We are a better football team now, and we're going to get better," said Duffner. "We need to do a better job on the fundamentals, get the would-haves, should-haves and could-haves out of our vocabulary. I haven't been here for this series, but I know that Maryland has played Penn State as tough as anybody in the country. And with their tradition, if we beat them, it would be like the shot heard around the world."
Maryland has to play a near perfect game and nullify Penn State's speed for a chance to win.
It will be a matchup of contrasting styles.
Maryland uses finesse. Penn State plays smash-mouth football. The Terps throw a lot from their no-huddle run-and-shoot offense. Penn State runs a lot from its multiple-set offense. The Terps like to stunt and play a lot of games on defense. Penn State coach Joe Paterno may blitz a lot today, but he prefers to manhandle teams with his front four or five.
Thus far, Maryland's offense has been far from perfect. The Terps are averaging 413 yards per game, but there have been times when quarterback John Kaleo and Co. have been out of sync for a quarter -- usually the fourth.
Plus, the Terps have not faced a defense like Penn State's, which returns seven starters. The Nittany Lions, led by linemen Tyoka Jackson and Lou Benfatti and lineback ers Reggie Givens and Rich McKenzie, are allowing only 92.7 yards passing and 145.7 yards rushing.
Penn State is allowing just 11.7 points per game in its wins over Cincinnati, Temple and Eastern Michigan. Defensively, Maryland has to stop Penn State's rushing attack, which is averaging 272.3 yards.
"They maul you with their big guys, blitz and dare you to beat them man to man," said Wycheck. "We know we have to play the perfect game."