Friday night will be a big game, but Maryland football isn’t overhyping it

Maryland football coach Mike Locksley runs out onto Lincoln Financial Field ahead of a 20-17 loss to Temple on Sept. 14, 2019. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

When Maryland football had just joined the Big Ten in 2014, it renewed acquaintances with Penn State for the first time since 1993. But in their trip to Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania, the Terps were far from well-behaved guests.

The animosity surfaced well before kickoff, with both teams exchanging words during a dust-up in pregame warmups.

Then came the coin toss. After the referee’s instructions, Maryland’s trio of captains — tight end P.J. Gallo, safety Sean Davis and wide receiver Stefon Diggs — opted not to reciprocate the customary handshake offered out by the Nittany Lions’ captains at midfield, and referees assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the visitors.

Following the pregame antics, Maryland won 20-19 thanks to a Brad Craddock field goal with 51 seconds remaining. But since that victory over Penn State, the Nittany Lions have won four straight matchups, outscoring the Terps 173-50 in a span of games resembling the one-sided nature of that 2014 handshake attempt.

Ahead of Friday’s matchup against No. 12 Penn State, coach Mike Locksley didn’t try to oversell the game. Instead, he emphasized that his program has to find more success and consistency against the other side to forge a rivalry.

“We got some work to do for us to be able to call it a rivalry. You can’t wish and make a game a rivalry,” Locksley said. “The only way it gets to that point is by competing and having success. So I wouldn’t say that it’s a rivalry yet.”

[Read more: Maryland football’s heavy-blitz scheme could help counteract Penn State’s playmakers]

Maryland and Penn State have played each other 42 times, and the Nittany Lions have prevailed in 39 of them, with one matchup ending in a tie. From 1960 to 1993, the programs met every year except three. During that stretch, Penn State only lost in 1961, marking the Terps’ first win against the regional foe.

The fixture went dormant for 21 years, before being renewed with Maryland joining the Big Ten.

Locksley was the offensive coordinator for the 2014 win, the Terps’ second ever over the Nittany Lions. The following year, Randy Edsall was fired, and Locksley was thrust into the interim ahead of a game against Penn State at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

[Read more: After a penalty-ridden 2018, Maryland football is working to curb “dumb” miscues this year]

After a back-and-forth affair, the Locksley-led Maryland team was tantalizingly close to claiming its second consecutive win against Penn State but came up on the short end of a 31-30 loss.

But in the three annual meetings since, the final scores have seen runaway results for the Nittany Lions with victories of 38-14, 66-3 and 38-3.

The offense, though, isn’t dwelling on that recent ineptitude. Transfer quarterback Josh Jackson wasn’t aware of the three-point showings of the last two seasons.

“I didn’t know that stat, so that’s, um, interesting,” a surprised Jackson told a reporter. “But this is a new team and a new offense and a lot of new players on the team.”

This season’s matchup has generated extra buzz beyond its proximity and conference play because of each team’s early season success coupled with a Friday night primetime game.

With the excitement, Locksley’s team will emerge from the tunnel before a packed crowd inside Maryland Stadium, the first home sellout since 2015. Furthermore, it’s the first home night game since 2016, one of three such night matchups since joining the Big Ten.

But the team has tried to maintain a tunnel vision, maintaining focus between the sidelines rather than letting it seep out into the stands.

“It’s only going to be a big game if we let it be a big game,” linebacker Shaq Smith said. “If we go out there and roll over, it’s not going to be a big game anymore.”

Though Locksley shied away from calling the game against Penn State a rivalry, he did concede that the result can have residual impacts on the future. The first-year coach says the winner can earn bragging rights over the other in the recruiting battles that develop in the talent-rich D.C., Maryland and Virginia area from which both programs pull players.

Securing those highly-rated players could prove to be the difference in the future for Locksley’s program to find the requisite consistent success that he feels it needs to make this matchup worthy of the rivalry tag.

“We’re excited about the opportunity,” Locksley said. “They’re a ranked program. They’re the type of program that we’re looking to develop [and] that we’re working to develop.”

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