Well, that was a fun Friday night, wasn’t it? I must say, I’ve never been happier to look like an idiot for predicting with confidence that this would be the closest game played between Penn State and Maryland since the first couple years of the James Franklin era. I’m sure many of you loyal readers are wondering to yourself whether this will lead to a Straight-A report card for this game. Well, let’s find out!
In just his fourth career start, Sean Clifford had the type of performance the Penn State faithful long thought he was capable of, throwing for 398 yards on 26-of-31 passing and four total touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). Cliff’s performance put himself near the top of the school history books, as he is now third on the list behind Zack Mills (399 yards vs. Iowa in 2002) and Christian Hackenberg (454 yards vs. UCF in 2014) for single-game passing yardage. Cliff looked poised in the pocket and was given a lot of easy, quick throws to get to his playmakers in space, while launching an occassional deep ball and using his awareness to scramble out of trouble for huge gains.
Yes, he did damn near throw a pick-six and he did throw his first career interception on a bomb intended for Daniel George, but in fairness to Cliff, that was an incredible swooping-out-of-seemingly-nowhere play by Maryland safety Nick Cross to snag the interception. Plus, I’d much rather Cliff’s first interception come with the game already in the bag up 28-0.
Will Levis got a chance to showcase his stuff, as well, by running for a pair of touchdowns and showing off what may become a signature “lay the hammer” celebration.
Running Back: A
When looking at the box score for rushing, nobody on the #LawnBoyz truly stuck out. Then again, when your QB is throwing for nearly 400 yards and the running backs are playing a significant role in said passing production, it doesn’t really matter. Journey Brown led the way with a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown, while Ricky Slade also saw paydirt in the end zone and caught three passes (including a long of 19 yards).
Devyn Ford also busted a nice 20-yard run and was moving the pile when carrying the ball. Give Devyn a full offseason in Dwight Galt’s strength and conditioning program and he could truly be a running back to watch in 2020.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: A+
An all-around great night for this unit, as they caught everything that was within reach (I couldn’t recall one single drop). KJ Hamler set the tone early with a catch on a slant route followed by using his fancy, Soviet soldier dancing footwork to juke out the Maryland defender in front of him and race to the end zone, putting PSU up 14-0 in the first quarter. It was part of a stellar performance by KJ that led to a team-leading six receptions for 108 yards.
Shout-outs also go to Dan Chisena, who came down with 40-yard reception despite being interfered with, and Nick Bowers’ two catches that included touchdown and a 55-yard reception that set up another touchdown.
Offensive Line: A
For once in my life, I have no complaints about this unit. Yes, Maryland’s defensive line may be bad, but how many times have we seen the offensive line have trouble against teams they should otherwise be handling? Clifford’s jersey was kept completely clean as he did not get sacked once, and the running backs had enough space to get some positive yardage and even break off a big gain on the ground.
Defensive Line: A+
Going into this game, Maryland’s weakness on the offensive line was something that all of us at BSD felt was something that could be exploited and would make the difference in what most of us thought would be a competitive game. Sure enough, the D-line, which had gotten off to slow starts against Buffalo and Pitt, came out and absolutely dominated the Maryland O-line from beginning to end, from first-string to third-string.
Shout-outs to Yetur Gross-Matos who returned to the stat sheet in a big way with five tackles, including two tackles for losses (which came in situations where Maryland was in a 2nd or 3rd down and short), and Adisa Isaac, who garnered a one-and-a-half sacks. Shane Simmons and Fred Hansard also picked up a half-tackle for a loss, each.
If KJ set the tone for the game on offense, then Jan Johnson did the same for the defense, using great awareness to pick off Josh Jackson on what would’ve otherwise been a huge gain over the middle on Maryland’s opening drive. The very next play saw Clifford run it into the end zone to give PSU a lead which the would never come close to relinquishing. Ellis Brooks led the unit with a team-high six tackles, including two-and-a-half sacks and Jesse Luketa also had five tackles.
Along with the rest of the front seven, the linebackers did not allow the Terps to get into any sort of rhythm with their ground game, holding Anthony McFarland to just 24 yards on nine carries and Maryland as a team, to just 60 yards rushing. It was unfortunate to see Micah Parsons get ejected early with the targeting call (especially when the game’s outcome was still in doubt), but I’m sure he will learn from the experience, and it was truly a testament to the depth that has been built up in the linebacking corps that Luketa was able to spell for him the rest of the game without skipping a beat.
Tariq Castro-Fields had a clutch, momentum-deflating interception when Maryland was threatening in the red zone and a couple other pass break-ups. Jonathan Sutherland, Jaquan Brisker, and Garrett Taylor, were also tremendous in run support and snuffing out screen passes, and Keaton Ellis had a fumble recovery. When your unit only gives up 68 yards passing through the air, it’s hard to give anything lower than an A-plus.
Special Teams: A
For the first time all season, Penn State had to defend a kickoff return. This was through no fault of Jordan Stout’s, as all of his kicks reached the end zone, but Javon Leake felt like he had to try and make some magic happen with Maryland down big in the first half and desperately needing a spark. Fortunately, the kick coverage team was more than up to the task of making sure Leake never provided said spark.
Stout shanked his lone field goal attempt from 51 yards out, which was a tad disappointing, but it was good to see Jake Pinegar nail his lone field goal (a 21-yard chip shot right down the middle). While KJ was unable to make anything happen fielding three Maryland punts, Jahan Dotson had a 30-yard punt return in garbage time. Blake Gillikin was only called upon three times, but averaged a decent 41 yards with a long of 52.