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Oh Come On, Was It Really That Bad?

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Yes, actually, it was. We are living in uncertain times as it relates to the Penn State football program.

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Memphis v Penn State Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Terrapins scored on their first drive to take a 7-0 lead. The Lions tried to answer, moving the ball all the way down to the 7 yard line, but instead of kicking a field goal on 4th and 3, James Franklin ran a play. A fade pass to the back of the end zone, intended for Parker Washington, fell to the ground.

Maryland scored two more touchdowns, taking a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, before the Lions got on the board. Sean Clifford led a 75-yard drive, finding Jahan Dotson on a 3rd and 14 to keep the sticks moving. A 17-yard catch by Pat Freiermuth brought the Nittany Lions into the red zone. Dotson caught his 5th touchdown of the season from 20 yards out to cut the lead to two scores with six minutes to go before halftime.

Brent Pry’s defense provided the much needed hold to get the ball back into Clifford’s hands. Only a 15-yard run for a first down went right for Clifford during the critical drive. Time and again, Clifford threw the ball over the head of the intended receiver, going 0 for 5 passing on series.

It took Maryland just 51 seconds to increase the lead to 28-7 at the half. On the opening drive of the second half, needing a score to stay in the game, Sean Clifford was sacked and fumbled the ball, which was recovered and returned for a touchdown.

Keeping with the negative trend, Jake Pinegar missed a field goal on the next drive and the wind was let completely out of the Lions’ sails. Parker Washington grabbed a touchdown pass early in the 4th quarter to get the Lions on the board again, but by then the 35-13 lead was all but insurmountable.

Washington added another touchdown catch with 11 seconds to play to make the score a more respectable-looking 35-19, but the game wasn’t that close. It will be a tough loss for the team and its fans to overcome.

Stats

Sean Clifford was off all day, throwing the ball high on most of his misses. On one hand, his statistics look gaudy, with 340 yards and 3 touchdowns. It was his 2 interceptions and 30 incomplete passes that told the story. For the third game this season, Clifford has not looked as sharp as he did at times last year.

It’s hard to quantify why Clifford has been so inconsistent this season since the issue seems to be in his head. He has been late with reads and getting rid of the ball at times, at other times it seems to be a mechanical issue, such as continually over-throwing his target.

Parker Washington is showing why the coaches spoke so highly of him during the off-season, putting together a nice game, finishing with 8 catches and 2 touchdowns.

With an 0-3 record, the first two to ranked teams, there is little to like since early in the first game versus Indiana. Will Levis doesn’t look poised to step in and play much better, though he has not gotten much of a chance this year. With only redshirt freshmen outside of Clifford or Levis to turn to, Franklin might have to keep his struggling starter in through the tough times.

The offensive line did not play well for Penn State, giving up 7 sacks and not being able to get into a rhythm running the ball.

Indiana played well on the defensive line and so did Ohio State, so it was hard to pin much blame on the offensive line. Maryland deserves credit for what they were able to accomplish but this game revealed that Penn State’s line simply is not able to establish any type of dominance, not by land or by air. Of course, missing Noah Cain and Journey Brown does not help the cause, but with the veteran group of offensive lineman, it should have been able to put more than just a couple of drives together.

On the defensive side Jason Oweh stood out with 10 total tackles including 2 tackles for loss. Outside of that, there were some good plays here and there but the squad was unable to hold Maryland in check for the first 30 minutes.

Storylines

  • Where does the team go from here? Nebraska. Other than that, the question is hard to answer. Will James Franklin be able to get the team on track or will the losing streak continue? The Cornhuskers will be no easy out on their home turf. It is an interesting time for the program. It feels like the reaction to this 3-game losing streak may be more important than the losing streak itself. The games are lost, there’s no taking that back. The team can, however, regain its confidence and finish strong. Without a strong finish we might be looking at the first losing season since 2004.
  • While invoking memories of the period known as the ‘dark years’ at Penn State, we should remember that following the 2004 season, the Lions went 11-1. They followed that up with four more great years, totaling a record of 51-13 over the next 5 years.
  • James Franklin is going to take a lot of heat for this loss but also the combination of this game and the late-game decision at Indiana that cost his team. It’s fair to say that had Franklin coached his best, the team would be 2-1 right now. The overall effort from the team has been lacking at times and that has to fall on the shoulders of the well-paid head coach. Most everyone in the community supports Franklin but that could change if the doldrums continue for too much longer.
  • For a fan base that was hoping for a college football playoff appearance, this season has certainly turned sour in a hurry. Much like the team, its fans will have to dig deep to find meaning in the rest of the season. I know that it seems lofty at this point, but a strong finish could put the Lions back into contention for a January 1st bowl game. While it may not be the Rose Bowl, it will be much better than following the current trajectory that the team is on, swirling toward the center of the toilet bowl.
  • What would you do to fix the problem? I try not to second-guess the coaching staff and without a stellar backup quarterback, there doesn’t seem to be a quick-fix. I know that Brent Pry is a great defensive coordinator so I’ll leave my criticism to the offensive side. I would run the ball more, right at the opponent. Hat on hat. Not only do I think that would favor our team in all but maybe one match-up moving forward, but it could give the offensive line the momentum that it needs. The line needs to get its mojo back and nothing would do that more than getting 200 yards on the ground from the 3-headed Penn State tailback monster.