If Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin was looking for a measuring stick to see how far the Terps have to go to become a factor in the Big Ten East, Saturday afternoon in State College was a grim reminder that the Terrapins still have a long way to go, especially on defense.
In a 38-14 loss to Penn State (4-2, 2-1), the Maryland defense could not keep the Penn State offense from moving the ball. Whether it was Saquon Barkley running for 202 yards on 31 carries or quarterback Trace McSorley using both his arms and legs, the Terps had no answer for the Nittany Lions.
Maryland’s defense yielded 524 total yards, including 372 on the ground. The Nittany Lions set the tone from the start of the game by driving 84 yards in just seven plays. The drive was capped by a five-yard touchdown pass from McSorley to tight end Mike Gesicki.
For most of the game, the Penn State offense took what it wanted against a Maryland defense that allowed just 10 yards rushing in its Big Ten opener against Purdue. The Terrapins found out in no uncertain terms that they weren’t playing the Boilermakers this week.
In the first half, Maryland’s offense tried to keep the game close with some big plays. Quarterback Perry Hills hit running back Ty Johnson for a 66-yard touchdown pass. Maryland’s offense had a couple of chances to keep the game close, but turned the ball over twice inside Penn State territory.
One came on a Hills interception. The other was the most glaring blown opportunity of the day in Happy Valley, after the Terps blocked a Penn State punt and set up the offense at the Nittany Lions’ 15. On first down, Hills was sacked by Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer. He fumbled, and the ball was recovered by Nittany Lion defensive end Torrence Brown.
Maryland (4-1, 1-1) cut the lead to three late in the first half on a seven-yard run from true freshman quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome, who took over for an injured Hills. It looked like the Terrapins had finally developed some momentum and a sense that they could stay in the game.
That sense didn’t last long.
With 15 seconds left in the first half, Barkley ripped off a long 45-yard touchdown run against a Maryland defense that was inexplicably in a prevent coverage. That was pretty much the ball game. Penn State added two more touchdowns for window dressing in the second half.
Playing without Hills, Maryland couldn’t generate anything on offense with the inexperienced Pigrome in the second half, finishing with just 270 yards of total offense and just 100 yards passing.
Maryland does have its share of good running backs and didn’t do a bad job of running the ball, gaining 170 yards on the ground. The problem against Penn State was a lack of consistency in the passing game.
The Terps came into the game with some lofty numbers, albeit against below-average competition. They were averaging 43 points and 466 yards of offense per game. The Terps also averaged 300 yards rushing. It’s one thing to put up those large numbers against Howard, Florida International, Central Florida or even Purdue. Maryland, on both sides of the ball, has to show that it can run and stop the run against teams with winning records.
Next week doesn’t get any easier for Maryland when it hosts another run-first team in the Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-2, 0-2).
The Terrapins need to show that this lost afternoon against Penn State wasn’t completely worthless.