The Penn State Nittany Lions and the Maryland Terrapins engaged in a contest of American football on Saturday afternoon in State College, Pennsylvania. The Nittany Lions emerged victorious, 38-14. I have many thoughts, which are randomly set forth below:
1. Maybe it was all in my head, but I had a pretty good feeling coming into the game. This surprised me based on the facts as they appeared on Saturday morning. Maryland looked like it was on the cusp of the top 25, with a high-octane offense dominating a mediocre schedule.
2. As much as we wanted to deride Maryland’s schedule, you have to give them credit for doing exactly what you’re supposed to do against bad football teams. They put them away early and never looked back. In the one competitive game they had played, they gutted out a win in overtime. Maryland had both done what it was supposed to do and had been somewhat battle tested.
3. Compare with Penn State. The Nittany Lions were average against Kent State, lost to in-state rival Pitt on a disaster of a first half, played Temple a bit too close for comfort, got blown out by a top 5 Michigan team, and gutted out an overtime victory against Minnesota. All things considered, you had to like Maryland’s resume a bit better on paper walking into Beaver Stadium.
4. Still, Homecoming Weekend just has a certain feel in State College. That Minnesota was too close for comfort, but it was also a game in which this young team found a way to win. No one will mistake it for Indiana ’04 and the goal line stand that sparked an Orange Bowl Champion, but it was a significant step on climb back up the ladder to national prominence.
5. I’m going to harp on this every week until it’s finally fixed – the University must figure out a better way to get fans into the stadium before kickoff. We had guests in our seats this weekend, and it was embarrassing. Yet 20 minutes into the game, the stands were full. Figure it out, it makes us look second rate.
6. Couldn’t have been happier to have the ball first this week.
7. Last week, we had comments discussing the paucity of methodical scoring drives. How appropriate to begin this week with one.
8. The decision to include McSorley more in the running game paid off this week, which makes me wonder what the game plan was previously. We’ve analyzed this offense as predicated on the Run/Pass Option, specifically with 3 choices – a handoff to Barkley, a McSorley keeper, or a passing play. Based on the commentary, it appears as though the McSorley keeper may not have been as much of an option in prior weeks.
9. McSorley has been criticized for some issues at the “mesh point” and his decision making on the option. Those issues appear to have been remedied this week, which makes you wonder if simply giving Trace the green light was the method of resolving it.
10. I don’t know that Saquon Barkley requires McSorley’s legs to open things up on the ground, but any yards Trace can gain either on the ground or through the air sure helps.
11. In a game where passing yards were at a premium, Mike Gesicki still made an enormous impact. The first touchdown catch was the exclamation point on a crisp first drive. He added 3 more catches and 21 more yards receiving, but beyond that, he drew a couple of pass interference calls that extended drives and led to scores. That’s a real weapon.
12. Joey Julius gets bigger crowd reactions than basically any other player except for Saquon Barkley. He’s even approaching that status. Joe the Toe is going to be a Nittany Lion legend by the time he leaves State College, and he’s not even our scoring kicker.
13. A Joey Julius comparison for thought - Julius vs. Owens
14. First drive set the tone for the defense. Two sacks, one by each of the more experienced members of the team, plus a stuffed run. Not too shabby.
15. I’m not scared of Perry Hills the way I am JT Barrett, for example, but the kid has some guts and can definitely find his way into open space.
16. In the same vein, there was some commentary this week that losing Hills basically ended the game for the Terps. I didn’t think that made much of a difference, honestly. At the time Hills left the game, he had passed for 72 yards and run for 16. Not exactly overwhelming numbers. Tyrrell Pigrome was an acceptable replacement, and probably a better runner.
17. We started the game with Cam Brown and Manny Bowen at linebacker, with Koa Farmer in a hybrid slot. Brown soon gave way to walk-on future legend Brandon Smith, and we were all better for it. Brown’s going to be great, but he’s still a young pup. Smith has great instincts, and those are desparately in need with all of the youth.
18. Koa Farmer was nominally playing linebacker, but he’s not really a linebacker. He was essentially a hybrid nickel back, and we appeared to play in that set for most of the game.
19. Farmer got a tremendous amount of praise, and rightfully so. Outstanding athlete and he contributed soundly. He still needs to figure out how to be in the right place at the right time, but the freelancing certainly helped make some big plays.
20. Maryland’s first scoring play was a superior play made by Ty Johnson with terrific blocking from his guys. Take a look at that play again – our defensive line read that play right, saw the screen, and didn’t take the bait. Maryland made that play with good blocking and legitimate speed. Sometimes you just get beat and have to tip your cap.
21. I will be so pleased when Will Likely has graduated. He’s an outstanding player, and watching he and Barkley attempt to one-up each other all day would have been a treat to watch if you had no allegiance to either Penn State or Maryland.
22. Jumpman is back. Truth.
23. That would demoralize most players. Will Likely just decided he was going to strip Barkley of the ball of the very next play. Smart, head’s up play from the veteran.
24. I don’t really understand Shane Cockerille. A linebacker turner quarterback turned linebacker? Joe Paterno would like to have a word with you.
25. We have many running backs who contribute effectively on this team, and that was showcased this week. Barkley had a remarkable game, but let’s also recognize Mark Allen’s contributions as well as Miles Sanders’ first touchdown in blue and white. The backfield is deep.
26. So deep, in fact, that one of them who contributed heavily last year just decided to become a big hitter on defense and special teams this year. Nick Scott – that was a heck of a hit, man. You almost sent Likely into the second row.
27. Same to you, Koa Farmer. You hit the quarterback so hard to force that fumble that I was surprised to see him get off the ground.
28. Despite those hits, tackling was a little ragged. I’m not sure what the fix is, but I will say it’s exponentially better than it was several weeks ago. That’s coaching.
29. Speaking of coaching decisions, I was very unhappy that we kept running the ball instead of passing after Barkley’s first big run near the end of the half. Of course, the coaches are now geniuses because never second guess giving the ball to Saquon Barkley.
30. This was the first week where special teams wasn’t an automatic A+ for me. That punt block was ugly, and Julius still booted one out of bounds. The latter was remedied by a stupid play from Maryland’s Isaiah Davis, but still.
31. Seriously, let’s talk more about how Trace McSorley’s arm is weak as he keeps throwing 50+ yard touchdown passes.
32. Nice to see Tommy Stevens get some run at the end of the game. Also nice to see Jonathan Holland get called for holding, but have the announcers laughingly refer to it as “mauling.” The future is so bright you have to wear shades.
33. I was very ready for a game that was essentially decided by the time the 4th quarter rolled around. I miss those relaxing game days.
34. Let’s hope that Ohio State isn’t decided by the 4th quarter in an entirely different way.
35. Yet another growth week for a young team. I’m excited to see it keep developing and proud of the way this team and coaching staff approach each week. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.
36. On to Ohio State and a White Out at 8:00 p.m. on ABC. That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.
37. We are . . .