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Maryland Drives The Final Nail In Their Own Soggy Coffin

A dirty special teams play inspired the Lions to victory.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

It was a brilliantly overcast day at Beaver Stadium. The grey skies were accented by rain clouds, fog, and intermittent drizzly rain. At one point a fan noticed a pattern in the sky and pointed to it while saying to her companion, “You see what that looks like? That looks like cold, wet feet.” Her friend looked off into the distance and pointed at another pattern among the rain clouds, “Oh look up there. See that? That’s my butt, and it’s numb from the wet bleacher seats.”

The teams took to the field of Beaver Stadium for a noon kickoff. The weather did not cooperate and it was the type of subtle nuisance that doesn’t always show up well on television. There was no driving rain or dramatic snowfall, but conditions on the field were less than optimal for both teams.

As a result it was difficult to complete a forward pass. It was also not the best weather for punting or catching punts. Maryland’s dangerous return man, Will Likely, finished with just ten total punt return yards on three attempts. Penn State averaged just 35.4 yards per punt after averaging 45 yards per kick in the previous 5 games.

The game saw just 20 completed passes from the teams combined and as a result there was a much anticipated emphasis placed on the run game. Maryland entered the contest with a stout rushing average per game while Penn State had more success through the air. The Lions averaged just 108 yards rushing per game as a team and Maryland an even 300 at the time of kickoff.

The numbers were flipped by the end of the day as Penn State rushed for 372 yards while allowing just over half of what the Terps had averaged, 170. Entering the game quarterback Trace McSorley had just 105 total rushing yards on the season, a point of contention for many fans of the team who wished the sophomore signal-caller would keep the ball more often on the option read. McSorley finished with 85 yards rushing for the day, nearly duplicating his season total. Saquon Barkley went for 202 yards on the ground on a hefty 31 carries. Penn State as a team rushed the ball 62 times.

On a day where victory was to be won in the trenches, Penn State dominated the line of scrimmage. The Lions finished with 28 first downs compared to Maryland’s 11. When talented junior tackle Andrew Nelson went down with a season-ending injury, Paris Palmer stepped into the lineup and the team did not miss a beat. It happened in the midst of what was a pivotal few moments in the game.

With Penn State leading 17-7 and seemingly in control of the game on the sloppy day, Maryland blocked a Blake Gillikin punt deep in Lion territory and recovered the ball on the 15 yard line. The prospects of holding the early ten-point lead looked as bleak as the sky over Beaver Stadium. On the next play, however, Koa Farmer provided a much-needed lift for the team and its fans when he sacked Maryland quarterback Perry Hills and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Torrence Brown.

All that is right in the world seemed to be restored until two plays later when Nelson went down with his injury. He remained on the field, in agony, as the training staff tested his right knee and ultimately signaled for the cart to come to his aid. The loss left a queasy feeling of dread in the stomachs of those looking on. On the next play from scrimmage Trace McSorley was sacked and with just two minutes remaining in the half, Blake Gillikin attempted another punt. This time he got the punt off cleanly and for a brief moment there was a feeling of relief inside the stadium.

The feeling didn’t last long. Gillikin booted the shortest punt of his career, a 29-yard flub which was returned 5 yards by Likely to the Penn State 37. Gillikin was replaced for the remainder of the game by Dan Pasquariello and it was revealed later that Gillikin was injured during the week and was trying to tough it out. Three plays later the Terps pulled to within 3 points when Tyrrell Pigrome kept the ball on a quarterback option and ran 7 yards into the endzone.

With just 52 seconds remaining in the half, having lost what felt like a comfortable lead and one of their best offensive lineman on a day where the run game was critical, Penn State got the ball back. Saquon Barkley took the first play of the series for a 25 yard gain out to the Maryland 45 yard line. On the next play Barkley was held in check and tackled for no gain with just 41 seconds remaining in the half. Penn State took a timeout to preserve the clock but it began to look as though the next play from scrimmage would be a conservative call. It was, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a big play. Barkley took the hand-off and scampered 45 yards into the end zone. Penn State regained the 10 point lead heading into the half and once again the damp fans inside Beaver Stadium had something to smile about.

On the first series of the second half for the Lions it appeared that the team was driving toward a 17 point lead that would all but secure the victory for the team on the slow, wet field. Instead of punctuating the 11-play, 65 yard drive with a touchdown, Saquon Barkley was stripped of the ball by Will Likely. The ball was also recovered by Likely and for the time being the Maryland play maker saved the game for his team.

Maryland took the ball and drove to the Penn State 27. After a time out with the play clock winding down, Penn State stopped the drive with a tackle for a five-yard loss on 4th and 2. The teams exchanged punts on the next two drives leading up to what was the nail in Maryland’s coffin for the day.

On the final play of the third quarter Trace McSorley found DeAndre Thomkins streaking down the right sideline for a 70 yard touchdown pass. The play represented nearly half of the passing yards that Penn State had for the day. It also signified the end of the game for the team from Maryland, which would be stopped on downs on the next possession, then forced to punt after three plays on the final two drives it had on the day.

Penn State added another touchdown, the first of Miles Sanders’ career. It was a nice-looking run play for 25 yards which saw the true freshman wiggle his way down the sideline, staying in bounds when it appeared that the defense had an angle to force him out at the ten yard line. Sanders’ speed and agility were on display and the crowd rejoiced when the scoreboard showed what would hold up as the final score, Penn State 38, Maryland 14.

A small section of Maryland fans that began the day with a boisterous attitude, in the upper-deck of the north corner of the stadium, sat in their seats dejected. Their heads, feet and tails retracted inside their traffic cone-looking decorated shells. On this day it was the turtle who was most afraid.

Player Quotes

The Schwan’s Man Delivers: a sack is a dish best served cold

Defensive end Evan Schwan had four solo tackles, two assists, and a critical sack on the day. He was asked about the fact that the game was decided with so much time on the clock, and what it felt like to be able to stand on the sideline and soak in the atmosphere of a comfortable win at home.

That was a nice look at the introspection of a graduate senior who knows that the number of chances he will get to enjoy life as a member of the Penn State football team are winding down.

When asked about the hit on Joey Julius, Schwan was not as calm and measured in his statement, illustrating the toughness that we see on the field. He described the illegal hit on Julius as being the nail in the coffin for Maryland.

And finishing up with some levity, Schwan revealed that he has an evil mustache tattoo, ready to be deployed at any moment.

Farmer Talks Surf and Turf

Koa Farmer had a critical sack and forced fumble in the second quarter. A safety forced to line up at linebacker for the team due to injuries, he played solidly and finished with 5 solo tackles to go along with his game-changing sack. Farmer was asked what it felt like when he knew that he was bearing down on quarterback Perry Hills from behind and that everyone in the stadium saw what was about to happen while Hills was unaware.

It’s like the same feeling you get when you are in the water, ready to catch a big wave and you know it’s coming and you’re going to ride it.

Farmer was asked about what it is like to play with a kicker who is a weapon on kick coverage.

You can’t make me not love you, Mr. Reid

Former Penn State lineman and world-renown songwriter Mike Reid penned the lyrics of what became known as one of Bonnie Raitt’s greatest hits. I can’t make you love me topped the charts a few of years before John Reid was born. The twenty year-old true sophomore has become a team leader. He finished the game with 5 solo tackles, 3 assists, a tackle for loss and two passes defended. Whether it’s anchoring the secondary, returning punts, or pushing his teammates to become better, it’s hard to complain about anything we see out of Reid. He’s a winner. He spoke about his friend DeAndre Thompkins and how they have worked together to improve.

Chaos Period Pays Off: Thompkins talks about the team’s fast start

Concerned about the slow starts that the offense has had in previous weeks, the coaching staff began using what was called a ‘chaos period’ in practice meant to simulate the worst that could be thrown at the team on game day. Thompkins finished with four catches for 91 yards to lead the team, including the long touchdown reception and also a tough catch on an out pass. Here’s what DeAndre Thompkins had to say about the chaos period.

Final Notes

Jourdan Rodrigue was covering the game for the Centre Daily Times in what would be her final assignment as a Penn State football beat reporter. She came to central Pennsylvania by way of the Arizona State University. Accepting a job with the Charlotte Observer two weeks ago, she announced that her next challenge will be following the Carolina Panthers.

While Rodrigue isn’t a Penn State graduate she will be remembered as one of us, having cut her teeth professionally in Happy Valley. She was only here for a year and a half but quickly became known as an honest, reliable source for Penn State sports. She seems poised for a long and noteworthy career in sports journalism. Following the likes of Heather Dinich, another non-Penn Stater who began her career with the Centre Daily Times and is now with ESPN, it’s hard to believe that Rodrigue will not be on television some day, reporting at the most visible venues.

It’s sad to admit that there are few journalists that can be taken at their word in our current climate. Rodrigue is one that can be trusted. She will be missed on the beat but we will all keep an eye on her as she progresses through life and on her journey to the top of the sports-reporting mountain.