COLLEGE PARK -- Penn State is no longer just "Linebacker U."
Oh, the Nittany Lions still have some of the best in the country, but this year, it's the defensive line that plays the biggest part in one of the best defenses in the country.
The No. 24 Nittany Lions are ranked eighth nationally on defense, allowing only 260.9 yards of total offense per game. Inside linebackers Mark D'Onofrio and Keith Goganious lead the team in tackles, but it's nose guard Jim Deter (6-2, 265, 21 tackles) and tackles Frank Giannetti (6-2, 255, 31) and Lou Benfatti (6-3, 270, 19) who have caught the attention of the Maryland, as well as members of other coaching staffs.
The Terps (5-4) play Penn State (6-2) Saturday at Beaver Stadium in Unversity Park, Pa. (1 p.m.).
"They're big, physical and get after you," said West Virginia coach Don Nehlen, whose team lost, 31-19, to Penn State last Saturday. "They do a good job of keeping offensive linemen off their linebackers. It's one of the best groups in the country."
Said Maryland offensive coordinator Tony Whittlesey: "I believe their best players are the front linemen. They are great pass rushers, and we've got to run the ball to keep the heat off our quarterback."
That could be a problem.
Clarence Jones and O'Neil Glenn, Maryland's offensive tackles, are having outstanding seasons. So, if the Nittany Lions play a "true" three- or five-man front, covering the center and the tackles, the Terps should be OK.
But Penn State runs multiple fronts. Against West Virginia, the Nittany Lions covered the center as well as both guards.
This is where the Terps could be in trouble.
Maryland has played musical chairs at guard and center most of the season. Starting left guard Ken Oberle has also played tackle and right guard, and reserve right guard Steve Ingram has also split time at tackle. This will be the first time since the second game of the season that starting right guard Ron Staffileno (separated right shoulder) has practiced an entire week.
It's no wonder that Maryland runners occasionally go right and the guards pull left. It's also the main reason why the Terps run off tackle and why they're averaging only 79 yards rushing.
Now, if you're Penn State coach Joe Paterno, where do you line up your defensive tackles? Over the guards or over the tackles?
"We've done all right, but been a little inconsistent," said Oberle. "Sometimes we have had breakdowns in calls at the line of scrimmage, and the fact that we rotate centers doesn't help. Penn State's linemen are really good, they're intense and they like to hit you. The key for us is having to run the ball."
"Because," Ingram said, "if we don't, they'll just tee off on us. And once those guys come, they don't go for fakes or anythings. They just come."
Penn State has 19 sacks this season, Maryland has given up 33. The Nittany Lions' two top sackers are Goganious (four) and Rich McKenzie (five). McKenzie is an outside linebacker of whom Paterno said: "I haven't turned this guy loose yet."
"Nobody has come out and just run over them," said Whittlesey. "Their statistics back that up. D'Onofrio played outside last year, but is having his best year by far. The other inside linebacker is having a year which I didn't think he was capable of having. The secondary runs to the ball well, and overall, this is a typical Penn State-coached defense."
Actually the Terps, if they get the time, could have some success passing. The Nittany Lions, who have 16 interceptions, play zone about 85 to 90 percent of the time. Maryland is averaging 265.2 yards and nearly 40 passes per game.
According to Whittlesey, Maryland's philosophy won't change for the Nittany Lions despite the weak offensive performance in the 34-10 rout by North Carolina two weeks ago (Maryland was off last week).
"Sometimes, you have to decide if it's personnel or just a bad day," said Whittlesey. "We've decided it was a bad day."
NOTES: Maryland starting outside linebacker Greg Hines underwent an arthroscopic procedure on a knee yesterday and is likely to miss the remainder of the season. Hines hurt the knee three weeks ago in the Duke game. Starting H-back Frank Wycheck, who missed the North Carolina game with a thigh injury, is expected back against Penn State.