Is Maryland a rival? Depends on who you ask. Is Maryland a fraud of a team this season? Of course. A 4-0 start against one of the weakest slates in the nation inflated the egos of the Maryland faithful, and gave them a false sense of entitlement most everyone else but their own knew was too premature.
It didn’t take long for Penn State to assert its dominance. Maryland won the toss and elected to defer, and the Nittany Lions drove down and scored a touchdown in what seemed like the easiest drive of the season. To answer, the defense sacked Perry Hills twice and forced this Maryland team, the one that rushed for 400 yards against the worst team in the Big Ten in Purdue, to punt. It’s almost as if Purdue’s defense is worse than the Nittany Lions's, or something.
Sure, I’ll give credit where it’s due. Maryland was able to stay with the Lions for a good portion of the game (more specifically, the first half). But then again, so did Temple. Staying with a Penn State team lacking several defensive starters, including all of its linebackers, should be fairly easy for any team as good as Maryland thinks they are. Having already established that Maryland isn’t a good team, they could do very little to take advantage of the Nittany Lions’ main weaknesses. The Terps could only muster 85 yards on the ground in the first half, finding no more success in the second half to finish with 170 in the game. Its effort was too little too late, though, because Penn State’s own half-time adjustments made a difficult situation even worse for the Terrapins. Many will say that the loss of Perry Hills late in the second quarter had an impact on Maryland’s performance, but don’t be fooled. Hills threw for 72 yards, rushed for another 16, and had as many turnovers as touchdowns in the game. Ironically enough, the way Maryland was even able to stay in the game was by getting a few big plays, which has been Penn State’s MO dating back to last season.
Wet, slippery conditions did more to slow down Penn State’s offense than Maryland did. The Lions moved the ball almost at will, having methodical drive after methodical drive. Their only weakness of the game was the ability to score once they got deep into Terrapin territory. The Lions could have put Maryland away early, but a few miscues and lack of execution led to only 24 points scored in the first half. To add insult to injury, a fumble deep in Maryland territory squandered another opportunity for the Nittany Lions to put the game out of reach early in the third quarter. Saquon Barkley had played a phenomenal game up to that point, so it’s a forgivable mistake. Penalties on offense continue to be a problem as well, and were also a big part in two of the drives ending in zero and three points. With Ohio State, a team that’s actually good, coming to town in two weeks, the offense will need to score touchdowns on every similar drive if they want to stay in that game.
Many Penn State fans may not care that much about this game, but the players certainly did. After Andrew Nelson went down with an injury, Maryland’s Will Likely attempted to return the ensuing punt, but Nick Scott would have none of it. He laid the kind of hit that sticks with you for a few days. A scuffle ensued immediately after that required the refs to get involved. Both teams payed with relentless energy and passion, especially after the aforementioned incident. That’s what happens when so many of these players saw each other throughout high school.
It’s amazing what can happen when this Nittany Lion team starts focused on both sides of the ball. If Penn State is able to parlay this performance into consistent play moving forward, it will be especially hard for anyone not named Ohio State to keep pace. That, combined with a few key linebackers coming back in due time, and we could see some big things the rest of the season.
On the other hand, this was supposed to be Maryland’s easiest conference game aside from Rutgers. With Minnesota, Michigan State, and Indiana next up, there are wins to be had. They need to be careful, though, as losing those three games would put DJ Durkin in the same path as James Franklin. We wouldn’t want that, would we?
Three Key Takeaways
1) Can’t key in on Barkley anymore. - McSorley is getting more comfortable with what Joe Moorhead wants to run. He’s been able to make much better reads, which have opened up lanes for Barkley to do what he does best.
2) Not good enough, but not that bad. - There is a clear gap between the top of the Big Ten and Penn State right now. But beating two teams believed to be in the middle of the pack, has shown that they’re well ahead of them.
3) Don’t mess with Julius. Seriously. - For the second straight week, a player laid an ill-advised late hit on Joey Julius. For the second straight week, that player got ejected. A note to future opponents: Don’t be the third.
Penn State gets a week of rest to heal up, and then faces Number 2 Ohio State on October 22nd. Game is at 8 PM on ABC. Buckle Up.