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PSU vs. Maryland 5 keys: Offenses explosive, yet inconsistent

Five things to look for as Penn State plays a Friday night game at Maryland, which it has outscored 104-6 in the past two meetings.

No. 1: That’s really offensive

Penn State scored 79 points in a season-opening blowout of Idaho. That same day, Maryland scored 79 in a rout of Howard.

No matter who you play, putting 79 points on the board is eye opening.

Maryland followed up the next week by lighting up what was supposed to be a decent Syracuse team for 63 points.

At that stage, many people were looking forward to tonight’s game, thinking the Terps could be a very dangerous opponent for the Nittany Lions.

Then Maryland went to Temple and lost. Not only lost, but its supposedly strong offense scored only 17 points, falling 20-17.

That same day, Penn State also scored just 17 points. That was enough, though, for the Lions to beat Pitt, 17-10.

So, what can we expect this evening from these offenses? Will one or both teams get things rolling and light up the scoreboard? Or were those early offensive explosions merely mirages against weak opponents?

There’s reason to believe Penn State can score a bunch of points. If Sean Clifford can hit several of the deep passes that he barely overthrew against Pitt, the Lions will pick up yards in big chunks and could easily top 30 points.

If Maryland can get a balanced attack with its strong running game and transfer quarterback Josh Jackson throwing the ball well, the Terps will be hard to stop, even for PSU’s outstanding defense.

If both offenses are firing on all cylinders, we could see a shootout.

Then again, there’s simply not enough proof that either offense can be consistent and sustain drives, so it’s hard to truly know what to expect.

No. 2: Clifford’s big test

This is the first road start of Clifford’s career. That’s always a big hurdle for a quarterback to overcome, and he will be need to prove he can handle a hostile environment in a conference game.

Clifford is a natural leader and doesn’t seem to be fazed by much, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him come out and have a big game.

Then again, Clifford knows how much is on his shoulders, he’s young, and many QBs in his shoes press a bit trying to do too much.

Penn State’s offense seems to be heavily reliant on Clifford being able to hit big passes downfield. The running game hasn’t been consistent, and the quarterback has talked about how he knows he must be better on the deep throws.

There’s a lot of pressure on Clifford tonight. How he handles it will be a big indicator of his development so far and what we can expect to see going forward.

No. 3: Terps look to start fast

Penn State embarrassed Maryland the last time it went there two years ago, 66-3. A lot has changed for the Terps since then, including the head coach and starting quarterback, but you can bet that score has been brought up a few times this week.

Maryland will be looking to jump out to a fast start trying to seize control and get the crowd into it. Penn State’s defense needs to be ready for that.

The Lions too often wait until halftime to make key adjustments. If Maryland’s offense does start fast, halftime could be too late for PSU.

No. 4: Running attack

Penn State’s four-man running back rotation has been a big story all week. Look for the Lions to pare that down a bit tonight, especially if the game is tight, and go heavily with Journey Brown and one other guy (take your pick on which one).

What hasn’t been talked about as much is Maryland’s running game. Anthony McFarland has 225 yards rushing, Javon Leake 187, Jake Funk 173 and Tayon Fleet-Davis 146.

The Terps will be committed to trying to run the ball, and if they do so effectively, this could be a very interesting game.

No. 5: Players to watch

PSU: KJ Hamler. James Franklin has talked about trying to get the explosive receiver more touches, so look for him to get opportunities in different ways, including on some home run routes.

Maryland: Josh Jackson. He’s a good quarterback who will need to be great tonight. If he is, to go along with a solid running attack, the Terps could be in position to pull off the upset.

Prediction: Penn State 30, Maryland 17.

Follow @CoryGiger on Twitter for live updates and analysis throughout tonight’s game.

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