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Bringing The Defense: The Lions Finish Strong in Maryland

Brent Pry’s defensive squad was determined to play a complete game.

Penn State v Maryland Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

After giving up 34 points in the second half against Nebraska, in a game that the outcome was decided midway through the first half, the team found itself in a similar position this week. Penn State got to the half against the Terrapins with a 31-0 lead. As with the week before, there were many substitutions late in the game for the Lions. This time there was a much better result.

Instead of letting down, the defense upped the effort as Maryland pulled out all the stops, using four downs and every play in the playbook to try to get on the board. It only could muster three teeny tiny little points by the final whistle. The second half went 35-3 in favor of the Lions even while players that seldom see the field got considerable playing time.

It was a complete team effort on the defensive side of the ball. It took focus in the play-calling and execution, but also unity from top to bottom on the depth chart to remain diligent for the entire game, ceding few or no cheap points.

What Happened

Trace McSorley led the Penn State offense down the field on the opening drive that was capped with a 21-yard run into the end zone by Tommy Stevens. A quick 7-0 lead was there for Brent Pry’s defense to defend. Who would have known that it was all his talented defense would need?

Shareef Miller jumped offside on a third down that may have gotten the defense off the field after three plays. The first play from scrimmage on the next set of downs was a trick play that only tricked the Terps.

Parker Cothren knocked the second-down pass to the field before it could get past the line of scrimmage. On third down Kevin Givens stripped the ball from quarterback Max Bortenschlager’s hands and the Lions got the ball back. It was a six-and-out, lengthened by the Miller penalty.

The offense suffered a rare three and out putting the defense right back on the field.

Maryland followed suit thanks to a bone-crushing hit on second down by Marcus Allen and then this play on third down. Koa Farmer shows that he is blitzing from the right side at the start of the video. He backs off and switches places with Jason Cabinda just before the snap. Cabinda steps to the line, and at the last second Brandon Smith jumps to the side of the guard left of him. This leaves Cabinda one-on-one with the center and Tyrell Chavis singled up with the left guard. Chavis escorts the guard straight back into where the pocket was supposed to be and Cabinda outlasts his block and runs the quarterback down. This is a good example of the well-timed blitzes that veteran players, including Brandon Smith, were able to implement to keep the Terps on their heels. Smith stepped into the starting lineup for Manny Bowen and led the team with five tackles.

The Terps covered the fumble but had to punt. Due to a poor punt the offense took the field needing just 41 yards to get into the end zone. McSorley led the short drive, this time finishing it himself with a tumbling 5-yard touchdown run.

Penn State allowed a first down on the next series. Then the defense stiffened, holding on a 3rd and 1. With little to lose, on their own side of the field down two touchdowns, Maryland decided to go for it on fourth down. They probably should have ran away from Jason Cabinda and Marcus Allen, not toward them.

Taking over on the Maryland side of the field for the second possession in a row, in a blink of an eye the ball was at the two yard-line when time expired in the first quarter. Two plays later Mike Gesicki caught a touchdown pass to extend the lead to 21-0.

The pass rush got to the Terps on first down, forcing an errant throw to begin the next series. On second down it stuffed an inside run. On third down a pass needing 8 yards for the first down got 8 yards and one inch. Two plays later, facing another 3rd and short, Maryland had a catch and the distance for the first down, until this happened.

The fumble set up another short drive that started at midfield for Joe Moorhead’s potent offense. It didn’t take long for Mike Gesicki to score his second touchdown of the day, this time on a great one-handed snag from 9 yards out.

Down 28-0 at home in the final game of the season, Maryland showed some signs of life on the next possession. A 32-yard pass on first down followed by a 16-yard pass on the next play had them at the Penn State 29 quickly. Shareef Miller rushed the quarterback on the next first down, forcing a quick incomplete throw. On the next play the offense attempted a quick throw to combat the rush but it also was incomplete. On third down, scanning the defensive secondary from outside the pocket, being chased by Shareef Miller once again, Bortenschlager was forced to throw the ball away. The field goal attempt from 46 yards hit the right upright and stayed out, preserving the shut-out for the time.

Maryland showed signs of life on defense as well, forcing a quick three and out for PSU when it took over. A 45-yard rush on first down quickly got the Terps into Penn State territory. A few plays later, once again facing a long field goal on fourth down, the Lions were forced to hold for an extra play. The outside blitz by Grant Haley got there and the coverage was solid in the secondary. After showing a relatively mild, 4-man rush at worst with Koa Farmer threatening on the right side, Brent Pry brought the house. Or at least the condo. A five-man rush, featuring two defensive backs, surprised the Maryland offensive line. Farmer dropped into coverage underneath the first receiver that the quarterback reads. There is no time for a second read. This is another example of not just a great play-call by Pry, but also veteran players that know how to sell the confusion prior to the play and execute perfectly after the snap.

McSorley again quickly got the ball downfield but the drive stalled at the Maryland 12. A Tyler Davis field goal made it 31-0. The defense responded with a three and out and Maryland punted the ball away with 1:49 left in the half. Forty-nine seconds later PSU punted the ball back the other way. Maryland’s hopes for adding points before the end of the half were dashed by two consecutive plays by Shane Simmons. On second down Simmons forced a quick throw into double coverage. Watch as Simmons lines up in a four-point stance as the right defensive end. At the snap he uses his speed to get up, twist left around two defensive lineman and get to the quarterback. This is another great scheme. This time instead of relying on the savvy timing of veteran players, it used the freakish quickness of the young pass-rushing defensive end. It appeared that Simmons was hunkered down as one of five potential pass-rushers just before the snap. Instead PSU only brought four, using Simmons as the speed man with Shareef Miller dropping off in coverage on the opposite side.

On the next play Simmons made the tackle short of the first down and Maryland elected to let the clock run out on the half.

The second half was similar to what the team faced in the previous week with a large lead midway through the game versus Nebraska. Would the team be able to tighten up the defense this week during the portion of the game in which the outcome had already been decided? Pretty much. It gave up some yards but only three points.

A 29-yard pass quickly brought Maryland into Penn State territory on its first drive of the second half. A few plays later on another 4th and short, the defensive line held solid while safety Troy Apke came around to make the tackle. It was one of Apke’s first plays of the game, as he sat out the first half after being dealt a targeting penalty late against Nebraska.

The offense went the length of the field and tacked on another touchdown when Saquon Barkley went airborne on 4th and goal from the one yard-line.

The kickoff was an adventure for Maryland that ended with a turnover and another short field for the Penn State offense.

Saquon Barkley added a rushing touchdown a few plays later and with seven minutes to play in the third quarter, the defense took the field again for PSU.

A solid series by the defensive line, highlighted by a pass-rush by Shane Simmons on third down, got the ball back to the offense three plays later. Tommy Stevens took over for Trace McSorley and led the team down for another score. This time Stevens found Tom Pancoast for a 4-yard touchdown reception.

A 54-yard run took the ball into Penn State territory on the next series. The troops stiffened their backs at the 24 yard-line, forcing a field goal from 42 yards, which went through the uprights to break the shutout, 52-3. The Lions punted the ball back to the Terps a few plays later as the drive stalled after gaining one first down.

A wave of substitutions came onto the field for Penn State’s defense for the next series. The second string stood strong, showing that talent is in the pipeline for the coming seasons. On third and long, Daniel Joseph got a sack that forced a punt.

Tommy Stevens rushed for another touchdown to cap the next drive and take the lead to 59-3. The defense, now featuring players that seldom see the field, continued to play hard. Here’s a sack on third and long that forced another three and out. Daniel Joseph combined with Ellison Jordan on the play. The pair of redshirt freshmen will see the field a great deal in years to come.

Tommy Stevens led the team down the field and added another rushing touchdown to his day, extending the lead to 66-3.

Here’s the final nice-looking play by the young backup Penn State defenders, setting up a three and out. Garrett Taylor came in from his safety position to force the tackle behind the line of scrimmage by Tariq Castro-Fields. Both underclassmen defensive backs are expected to play a great deal next year with the graduation of two senior starters in Apke and Allen.