On Saturday afternoon, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Maryland Terrapins engaged in a contest of American football at Maryland Stadium in College Park, Maryland. The Nittany Lions emerged victorious, 31-14. I have several thoughts, which are set forth randomly below:
1. Stop trying to make “the Shell” happen for Maryland Stadium.
2. I had no idea Ron Zook was on Maryland’s staff. I’m pretty sure the last time I thought about Ron Zook at all was when he was the Illinois head coach.
3. The last time I thought about Illinois, though, was during the first half of this game against Maryland. And honestly, the less I think about Illinois, the better off I’ll be.
4. You can’t blame me, though. This one followed a similar pattern, at least for the first 30 minutes. In each game, after exchanging punts with the opposition on a number of possessions, Penn State looked like it snapped awake with quick scoring drives featuring chunk passing plays.
5. In both situations, I’m confident we all though those drives were about to open the floodgates. Instead, everything stalled.
6. Against Illinois, that slowdown held for the balance of the game, including 9 overtimes. Here, at least it only lasted for the rest of the first half.
7. Overall, I didn’t find the Penn State offense to be terrible. They just couldn’t figure out a way to move the ball as much as needed to finish drives.
8. In a vacuum, playing mediocre offense for a half and walking into the break up 7-6 would have been disappointing. The clock management on that last possession, though, is what plunged the extremely online portion of Penn State’s fan base into crisis mode.
9. (To be fair, my father, who is not extremely online, was quick to point out his disgust at Penn State’s incompetence at the end of the half.)
10. Without Illinois as a model, no one is that upset with that first half of football. But we did have Illinois, and that game did change this season, and it’s reasonable to be concerned about another dramatic loss leading to total collapse.
11. Fortunately, we have Jahan Dotson and they didn’t. And that’s all that mattered.
12. He was the answer every single time. Every time Maryland did something right, Jahan Dotson responded. This kid is incredible. Smooth and fast with pure hands. He can just play.
13. Pick one – Jahan Dotson, Chris Godwin, or Allen Robinson. Go.
14. Sean Clifford was fine this week. At one point, he was 2-6, then suddenly he completed something like 11 of his next 12. He was imperfect, but he also threw a bunch of nice passes.
15. You can point to a bunch of plays downfield to the receivers (that throw to KeAndre Lambert Sith was a beauty), but my favorite offensive play of the day is where the line broke down, Clifford shakes an almost certain sack, spins out and makes the right decision by finding Noah Cain swinging out of the backfield for a nice gain.
16. The running game did some nice things on Saturday and to my untrained eye, Keyvone Lee looks like the guy who has earned the most time. That first touchdown drive of the second half was exactly what Penn State needed – another player to shoulder the load so Clifford doesn’t have to throw on every down like we’re running the Air Raid.
17. It’d be nice if the biggest push the offensive line got on Saturday wasn’t Fred Hansard on the sidelines on Taulia Tagovailoa.
18. If anything ever deserved a flag, it was that. But I’m happy to take the breaks when I can.
19. The announcers had the oddest reaction to that play. Tagovailoa was lining up on 3rd and 10 and even before the ball was snapped, the announce team starting talking about it as a drive that could’ve ended in a score but did not. The play in question happened on first down. It was obviously an absurd no call and would’ve given Maryland an extra 15 yards and a new set of downs to work with, but it seemed odd to concede the drive’s failure before it actually happened.
20. I guess that’s what happens when you have Jaquan Brisker and Ji’Ayir Brown patrolling the backfield.
21. Defense always gets lost in the shuffle in the postgame takes. Some of that is because offense is easier to critique than figuring out who was out of position in certain coverage. But mostly, we’re just spoiled. We’re used to good defenses and have been for the last 60 years (the Ted Roof-era notwithstanding), and we take them for granted.
22. Is this the best Penn State defense since 2011? Is it the best defense since 2005?
23. This doesn’t have the same star power as the 2005 defense, where virtually the entire team had NFL capability. It’s unusual to have a safety be your “it” guy at Penn State, but Brisker is certainly that.
24. Beyond Brisker, the entire secondary is the best I’ve ever seen here. Every guy in the defensive backfield can play.
25. And the turnovers…I can’t remember a time when Penn State forced this many turnovers. They’re in the right place at the right time and come away with the ball.
26. Brown saw that pick-six coming from a mile away. Watch it again and see him break on the ball before it even leaves the quarterback’s hands.
27. I was glad to see that defensive score because it made the margin more palatable. Ultimately, though, this game is not going to be overly memorable outside of the next few days.
28. Which is exactly where Maryland belongs.
29. On to Michigan.
30. What time is it?
31. We are…