The role of pressure is truly amazing when it comes to the game of football.
Too much of it and teams, players and coaches can crack. To little? Well, nothing gets done in those instances.
Pressure has been a big word around Penn State football as of late. Heading into his season, head coach James Franklin was under it. Entering his third year with the Nittany Lions he needed to start showing Penn State faithful that he can take the program back to the top of the Big Ten mountain.
Athletic Director Sandy Barbour took a lot of that pressure off this past week by declaring that Franklin is PSU’s coach for the long run. She didn’t give him a pass, but she definitely took him off the hot seat.
And coming off a close win against Minnesota the Nittany Lions undoubtedly had to feel some pressure going up against a Maryland Terrapins team that came into Happy Valley undefeated at 4-0.
The pressure was on for Penn State to perform, though it was off at the same time — at least in regard to Franklin.
All the Nittany Lions did was come out and beat Maryland, 38-14, making a statement in the process. With a coach who has a new lease on this season, anything is possible for Penn State. Is it going to be easy? With a game at Ohio State looming large up next on the schedule, absolutely not. Is Penn State prepared to fight and play through the pressure, though?
Perhaps that’s still yet to be seen, but the takeaways from the win over Maryland are mostly positive for PSU.
The Nittany Lions put up 524 yards on offense and held Maryland to just 270 — a winning combination if there ever was one.
Led by Saquon Barkley and sophomore quarterback Trace McSorely, the Nittany Lions rushed for a whopping total of 372 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Barkely was elite in the contest, rushing for 202 yards and a touchdown on his own — gaining 6.5 yards per rush.
”I didn’t do anything spectacular today,” Barkley said after the game via the team website. ”The offensive line took over and did a good job. We kind of felt we could run the ball; we hadn’t been getting our running game going. The offensive line did an outstanding job.”
McSorely rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown while also playing a great game through the air. He completed 10-of-19 passes for 152 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His favorite target on the afternoon, sophomore wideout DeAndre Thompkins, caught four passes for 91 yards and a score.
”Offensively, we put up some good numbers and did some good things,” Franklin said. ”I thought we matched up well against this team on the O-line and the D-line. The games that we’ve matched up well, we’ve had success.”
Franklin focused on the offense but Penn State’s defense played a great game as well in front of the home fans. The Nittany Lions forced Maryland into 4-of-13 third down efficiency and the Terps were 0-2 on fourth down. PSU won the possession battle by an impressive 10 minutes (35:00 to 25:00) and forced Maryland into two turnovers, an interception and a fumble.
Between two quarterbacks, Maryland notched only 100 total yards through the air and outside of a few bursts from freshman Lorenzo Harrison, the Terrapins were largely ineffective on the ground.
It was an all around good game from Penn State. Barkley was the star, but the team as a whole played well.
The win puts Penn State at 4-2 on the season and 2-1 in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions lost to potential College Football Playoff contender Michigan a few weekends ago, 49-10, and lost a close rivalry game to Pitt earlier in the year, 42-39.
So no, Franklin and the Nittany Lions haven’t been perfect. They are on a two game win streak, though, and perhaps — just perhaps — the Coach Franklin who led Vanderbilt to consecutive 9-4 bowl win seasons is starting to show himself a bit.
It likely helps that he knows he’s building something long-term at Penn State and the rug won’t be pulled out from under him if PSU isn’t a top team in the Big Ten this season.
And maybe they won’t be, but at the very least heading into a huge game at Ohio State he has his team playing good football. Pressure or no pressure, Penn State is certainly feeling some momentum.