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Penn State at Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse: Three things to watch

Johns Hopkins has never lost in five meetings with Penn State, but the teams – now Big Ten rivals – will tangle Saturday for the first time since May 11, 1946 when the Blue Jays waltzed to a 19-4 victory.

The Nittany Lions are winless in five games on the road this season, while their hosts are 3-2 at home.

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Penn State (3-7, 0-2 Big Tem) is mired in a four-game losing skid, but four of the team's overall losses have been decided by three goals or less. The offense has struggled to score 8.9 goals per game this season, but boasts a scoring threat in T.J. Sanders, who leads the team in goals (20) and assists (9). The attackman is just the third junior since 2009 to crack the 100-point plateau and has recorded at least 20 goals in each of his three seasons with the Nittany Lions.

Johns Hopkins (4-6, 1-1) has dropped three of its last four contests and five of its last seven – with each losses decided by no more than three goals. Freshman attackman Shack Stanwick has wasted little time making a fast impression on the field. The Baltimore resident and Boys' Latin graduate's 27 points on 14 goals and 13 assists are the most by a Blue Jays freshman since 2007 when Steven Boyle and Michael Kimmel posted 37 and 30 points, respectively.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome for the 6 p.m. game at Homewood Field.

1) The first quarter. Penn State has struggled to get out of the blocks, getting outscored 36-24 in the opening period. The Nittany Lions allowed No. 3 Maryland to score the first three goals and eight of the first nine in last week's 12-5 loss, and Johns Hopkins would love to get a similar jump. But coach Dave Pietramala said he fully expects Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni, Pietramala's assistant when they were together at Cornell from 1998 to 2000, to prepare his players.

"I'm very familiar with their head coach and I know how he coaches, and I know they will be very prepared and be emotionally invested," Pietramala said. "They will come in here full of fire and brimstone, and they're going to be ready to play. My concern is more about us and how we will come out. We've got to come out excited, we've got to come out emotionally charged, we've got to come out and execute. … I would expect them to come out from the get-go and try to punch us in the mouth. We expected that from Ohio State, and that's exactly what they tried to do. We expect the same from Penn State."

2) The defensive strategy. Aside from Sanders, the Nittany Lions feature sophomore Mike Sutton (17 goals and three assists) on attack and redshirt sophomore Matt Florence (11, 6) and sophomore Nick Aponte (10, 7) in the midfield. The emergence of Florence and Aponte could influence the Blue Jays to double-pole the Penn State midfield, but Pietramala pointed out that tactic could create more questions for the defense.

"They're drawing more slides, which begs the question, can you two-pole?" he said. "You certainly can, but then you're running the risk of playing [sophomore attackman] Dan Craig with a short-stick. He's a Canadian, and now you're putting a short-stick on a guy who's pretty slick off the ball. He does a lot on the interior of their offense and does a lot of fading and cutting inside. So he cuts inside and Sutton fades to the outside, and now you've got a short-stick on Sutton. There's always that option if you want to look at it just statistically. But you also have to look at the larger picture."

3) The man-up offense. Only two other teams (Manhattan and Albany) have enjoyed more extra-man opportunities than Johns Hopkins, which has gone on the offensive 55 times. Although the offense ranks 16th in Division I in success rate at 45.5 percent (25-of-55), the unit has converted just 37.5 percent (3-of-8) of its chances in its last three games. While noting that minor injuries to players on the man-up offense have at times prevented them from practicing and maintaining a continuity with their teammates, Pietramala credited opposing man-down defenses with studying the Blue Jays' schemes.

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"Teams have more tape on you, so they start to study your tendencies a little bit more," he said. "At this point in time, if you're going to keep doing the same things, teams have seen a lot of it. They've seen what's been successful and what's been unsuccessful. … I think we're still at 45 percent. So I think we're still doing a pretty good job there. Hopefully, we can do better."

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