By: Cody Wilcox
Through nine games this season, No. 3 Maryland’s offense has gotten the spotlight. Packed with explosive dodgers, Tewaaraton nominees and quick playmakers, the Terps have scored ten or more goals in every game this season.
But on Sunday night, a more prolific offensive team will take the field against the Terps: No. 1 Penn State Nittany Lions. And with Penn State coming to College Park, Maryland’s defense will have to be the ones to make plays against the nation’s best offensive team in order walk away with their first top-five matchup of the season.
“When they get the ball, they play so fast that they force you to defensively be on your toes and be guarded at all times,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said. “Top to bottom, certainly the best team I’ve seen on film this year.”
Tillman is 3-1 against No. 1 ranked teams during his tenure at Maryland, and the Terps remain undefeated against Penn State with a 36-0 all-time series record.
The Nittany Lions have six offensive scorers that have rallied double-digit goals on the season. They have combined for a total of 115 goals and 72 assists in contribution to Penn State’s offense outscoring opponents 147-84 through eight games.
Penn State’s offense is led by their two talented attackmen in Grant Ament and Mac O’Keefe. Ament, a redshirt junior from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, is the team’s primary playmaker with a team-high 46 assists. He leads the country with 6.57 assists per game. O’Keefe, a junior from Syosset, New York, has 36 goals on the season and averages 4.5 goals per game, which also leads the nation.
However, Penn State’s one-two punch may not be at full capacity against the Terps. Penn State head coach Jeff Tambroni said that Ament is day-to-day with what he called a “lower-body injury,” as first reported by Shane Connelly of The Daily Collegian.
Tillman says that the Terps will have a primary game plan if Ament is good to go but make slight adjustments if he is out of the Penn State lineup or limited by his injury.
“Sometimes when a guy doesn’t play, you will tweak that plan,” Tillman said. “I don’t think everything gets overhauled.”
Maryland’s defense is anchored by freshman Brett Makar, junior Jack Welding and senior Curtis Corley. The Terps’ boast the seventh-ranked scoring defense in the country, allowing nine goals per game. In every game this season, except their loss against Notre Dame and their overtime victory against Penn, Maryland’s defense has not allowed more than 10 goals against their opponents.
“I think right now we’re clicking. Guys are trusting each other,” sophomore midfielder Roman Puglise said. “You can see the level of chemistry developing.”
Corley, who was part of Maryland’s 13-12 victory in State College last year, says that although people will point to the matchup between Penn State’s offense and Maryland defense, the game will be decided by the team’s effort.
“They obviously got their knowns that we’ve got to stop. But we’ve got to play really good team defense—really good team overall—not just from the defense,” Corley said. “From the faceoff, playing offense, playing defense, all over the field we have to have a really good game.
One way the Terps will look to keep the ball out of Penn State’s offensive sticks is to limit their possession time by winning faceoffs.
The Terps have their own one-two punch in faceoff specialists Austin Henningsen and Justin Shockey, who have both seen success throughout the season. Shockey has won 54.4 percent of his faceoff opportunities, while Henningsen is sixth in the nation, winning 69.9 percent of his faceoffs. The duo, along with limited appearances from Wesley Janeck, has had an advantage in the faceoff X in every game but two.
Maryland’s faceoff duo will have their hands full with Penn State’s Gerard Arceri. Arceri, a junior from St. James, New York, has won 115 of 186 faceoff opportunities for a 61.8 win percentage, which is 13th in the nation.
Even if Penn State’s Ament isn’t able to play, Maryland’s defense will have to pull out all of the stops against the Nittany Lions in order to jump start their conference play with a statement win and get their first win against the No.1-ranked team since 2017 against the Nittany Lions.
“We want him to play. You want every team at their best. That’s why you play,” Puglise said. “That’s why you come to a school like this—to play the best teams in the country and arguably one of the best players in the country–you hope he’s on the field so you can get a crack at him.”