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Nassib should pose test for Maryland's O-line

Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib (95) celebrates his second half interception with defensive end Garrett Sickels (90) during an NCAA college football game against Buffalo in State College, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib (95) celebrates his second half interception with defensive end Garrett Sickels (90) during an NCAA college football game against Buffalo in State College, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) (Gene J. Puskar / AP)

The Maryland offensive line worked all offseason for this stretch of Big Ten Conference games.

They worked to bulk up to be able to contend with some of the nation's top defensive linemen, such as Ohio State's Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington, and Michigan's Chris Wormley and Willie Henry, like they did earlier this month.

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And now, for their latest test in the trenches, the Terps will face the nation's leader in sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles — Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib, who anchors a Nittany Lions defense that ranks 16th nationally in total defense.

"We love it," right guard Andrew Zeller said. "We embrace the challenge, especially as an offensive line. Getting the opportunity to go against the bigger defensive linemen, we love it. We love going out and being able to compete with them."

Nassib, a former walk-on, has 11 1/2 sacks, 15 1/2 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles in a season in which he's been a force. The Nittany Lions have started the same front four in their first seven games this season — Nassib and Garrett Sickels at the ends, Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson in the interior — and they've caused problems for opposing defenses, especially with Nassib's nose for the football.

"You'll see some things that we'll do, whether it's giving him extra attention with backs chipping him, tight ends chipping him, sprinting out and moving the pocket," interim coach Mike Locksley said.

Maryland was plunged straight into the teeth of Big Ten play earlier this month with its matchups against No. 15 Michigan and No. 1 Ohio State, and it found little success. Though they've played only two conference games while every other school except for Illinois has played three, the Terps rank 12th in scoring offense and 13th in total offense in league play.

Michigan shut out Maryland 28-0 on Oct. 3 and held the Terps to 105 yards of total offense, a season low. The Wolverines allowed only 29 yards on the ground and intercepted quarterback Caleb Rowe three times. Penn State has forced 12 turnovers this season and is second in the Big Ten in turnover margin at plus-7.

"It doesn't get any easier in this side of the league," Locksley said. "As I've said before, the East side of the Big Ten is one of the toughest divisions in football and we know that we're going to face really good defenses and really good fronts and what we've got to try to do is make sure we put together a plan that we don't allow a guy like [Nassib] to wreck our game plan."

The two West division teams on Maryland's schedule, Wisconsin and Iowa, rank second and third in the Big Ten in total defense.

Maryland is coming off a rejuvenated offensive performance in its 49-28 loss at No. 1 Ohio State on Oct. 10. The offense put up 386 yards, including 253 on the ground. Quarterback Perry Hills rushed for 170 yards — some on designed runs, some on scrambles — and two touchdowns. If Hills can feel the rush and get loose into the secondary, it can create confusion in the Penn State defense that Maryland can take advantage of.

The Terps just need their offensive line to perform well against its latest tough task. It hasn't been easy this season, and it won't likely get any easier moving forward.

"I think we're definitely more physical and we have the ability to do so," Zeller said. "We just have to believe in ourselves as a front five and take care of business."

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