What We Learned After Penn State

Here is what we learned about Maryland following its 20-19 victory against Penn State in State College, Pa.

Here is what we learned about Maryland following its 20-19 victory against Penn State in State College, Pa.

It's On, Again

Tradition? Rivalry? Mutual Respect? Not really.

Maryland poo-pooed any such pomp and ceremony with border rival Penn State, who after 21 years cranked the lopsided series back up again Nov. 1 at Beaver Stadium, all with a pregame "non-handshake" that left many shaking their heads and should immediately go down in game-lore already.

After the initial dust-up, led by locals such as Terps junior receiver/game captain Stefon Diggs, who actually swiped an official across the face in the melee and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct prior to kickoff, the tone was set. Win with an inspired, emotional effort because of it, or go home with egg on the face and the dubious moment blasted across Sports Center all night.

The Terps game captains -- Diggs, P.J. Gallo (a Pennsylvania native) and Sean Davis -- after tangling with Nittany Lions players in warm-ups who may have encroached their area, refused to shake hands with the three Penn State captains at midfield in a move we have never seen in nearly three decades covering the program.

Now, a few years back PSU head coach James Franklin, while offensive coordinator at Maryland, got in a legendary pre-game dustup with Virginia head coach Al Groh at mid-field, but this took things, and old-line state traditionalists bubbly over the series-renewed, a step further on the ledge. Even Randy Edsall said afterwards that he apologized for his players letting emotion get the best of them, and it's "not the way we want to be, and it was not orchestrated."

The Terps ‘talked the talk and walked the walk’ in the 20-19, come-from-behind win, secured with :51 left on a Brad Craddock 43-yard field goal, to make up for an abysmal day on offense yet a courageous one on defense. It also secured the Terps a six win to qualify for a post-season berth for the second consecutive year under Edsall.

Improving now all-time to 2-35-1, it was hardly a memorable performance, but the way the game started, well it’s no surprise it ended with Davis, the junior safety filling in at boundary corner for injured J.J. Johnson, absolutely crushing PSU quarterback Christian Hackenberg on the sidelines on third and 1 on the second to last play of the game.

Most Terps players weren't even born the last two times the teams played one another. But the Nov. 1 war, bad blood already, will add to series lore for generations to come. It was Maryland’s first-ever win in Happy Valley.

Thunder from Down Under, Again

And speaking of Terps junior placekicker Brad Craddock, now officially the nation's hottest kicker, Nov. 1's 43-yard game winner with less than a minute to go improved him to 20-for-20 on the season, including his long of 57-yards, which also came against a Big Ten school (Ohio State).

And this Nov. 1 kick could well have gone for another 20 yards, it had such distance, though it barely glanced over the left upright.

Craddock has been the one consistent beacon for a Terps team in need of more leaders and game-day heroes too many times this season. Craddock is now 9-for-9 from 40-yards and out, while he has become the most respected teammate in the locker room as well.

Randy Edsall can go nary a day without gushing over the mature-beyond-his-years Craddock, who came to Maryland as a raw punter and is now the team's, as well as one of the nation's, most dangerous special teams weapons. He has also begun to mentor teammates, something which began during the bye week when Edsall suggested every player go to him for advice, be it on the field or off.

And not only last week, but the week before, Australian TV crews were in town documenting the Terps affable specialist, a Lou Groza Award watch list member who's making it tough on the committee to choose a more deserving honoree.

It was fitting Craddock mussed Edsall's hair (or at least tried to) during the head coach's post-game interview with ESPN reporters on the field. There may not be a better coaches-favorite than Craddock during the Randy Edsall era.

"Play Mad"

It's a cliché/slogan Terps sophomore running back Wes Brown likes, and has used, a few times in the past.

And Nov. 1 the big back with the wanting appetite finally got a chance to get up a head of steam.

The final stat line may just show Brown, the lightly-used former 4-star back out of Good Counsel High School, toting the rock for just 24 yards on 10 carries. But it's how he carried the ball, and his one-yard touchdown plunge with 11:38 to go lifting Maryland to a 17-16 lead, that made all the difference.

Starter Brandon Ross was ineffective again, with five carries for minus-one yard on the day, as well as a galling fumble to finally get pushed to the sideline in favor of Brown.

But it was a long time coming for most observers of the Terrapin football situation, and Brown proved the only back Nov. 1 (see his 13-yard rush, among others) to break first contact, to push forward for positive yardage, and to get to the second level in a season Maryland's run game (an anemic 1.0 yards per carry average Nov. 1) has been stuck in neutral since the opener against James Madison.

Since then, only quarterback C.J. Brown has mustered up a ground attack, from time to time in the zone read, but even that has been taken away by opponents. While Wes Brown also had a fumble Nov. 1, after consecutive runs of 13 and 8 yards on a drive in the third quarter, he still represents their best bet among a stable of backs in the pre-season that has since winnowed, leaving the Terps, and frustrated followers as well as a one-dimensional offense, looking for answers.

QB Issues Persist

It was a dreadful day again through the air for the Terps and C.J. Brown, but he was not alone.

As Maryland and Penn State jump-started their old series again, it’s hard to tell which quarterback had a worse case of the 'yips.'

Both have been harried and sacked and beat around so much this season, and Brown career, that it's easy to see why at times they look so dazed and confused.

Brown was just 18-for-38 for 161 yards (4.2 yards per pass completion) and one touchdown, on a day he was sacked eight times and again did not read well and had accuracy troubles. The Terps converted just 1-of-15 third downs, while the Brown-led offense had but 66 yards total in the first half against a team 74 yards in penalties alone. They also had six consecutive three-and-outs after a brutal nine in a row last week at Wisconsin in that meltdown.

Hackenberg was worse, going just 18-for-42 for 177 yards and a pick and a touchdown, while PSU only converted 6-of-20 third downs and had just 219 yards total offense at home, along with four turnovers.

But the sixth-year senior Brown found little-used tight end P.J. Gallo for a nice 2-yard touchdown pass early after rolling to his right side, while late he heated up with Stefon Diggs (6 catches for 53 yards, all in the second half), and his 13-yard toss in the flat to Wes Brown with 2:08 left, after a grueling day, set up Brad Craddock's game-deciding field goal with :51 left.

It wasn't pretty (C.J. Brown also rushed 13 times for 4 yards), as many Brown outings have been this season for the star-crossed veteran, but you can put several drops (see Amba Etta Tawo, Marcus Leak) on his receivers this afternoon, and he willed the Terps to victory, their six and bowl qualifying, in the end.

Opponents have taken away his greatest strength, the read option, and more and more the screen game, but against PSU Brown found a way against the Big Ten's best defense.

Defense Pulls it Out, Too

Saving the best for last, an undermanned again (hey, what's new?), Maryland defense rose up once more with their backs to the wall to share in game-ball honors Nov. 1.

With the offense struggling again both on the ground and through the air, and the defense on the field far too much (see Maryland's 11 punts and sea of three-and-outs), coordinator Brian Stewart's unit bounced back big after their letdown last week in Madison.

Despite starting corner J.J. Johnson out with a hamstring injury, and junior safety Sean Davis moving over to boundary corner with the start Nov. 1, the Terps kept Penn State's offense out of the end zone all but once on the afternoon in the 20-19 win, 12 of which PSU points came on field goals.

Yielding only a third-quarter Jesse James 8-yard touchdown reception, which Davis gave way on a jump ball to the 6-7 tight end in the back of the end zone, Maryland collapsed the pocket and generated five sacks and kept quarterback Christian Hackenberg in check (and either debating with OC John Donovan on the sidelines or animated on the headsets) most of the day. Take out the third quarter drive in which he connected on seven of his game-total 18 completes, he was harried (4 sacks) and throwing off balance or off-target much of the day.

The Terps also won the turnover battle again, 4-2, as corner Will Likely had a first quarter pick, Hackenberg dropped the ball as he wound up to throw, which L.A. Goree pounced on, while later backup linebacker Jermaine Carter provided a huge special teams hit on punt returner Grant Haley, who coughed it up and linebacker Alex Twine recovered in PSU territory to set up the drive that produced Wes Brown's one-yard touchdown run four plays later.

True, Penn State's line is porous and even more jumbled than ever, and they lack a difference-maker at running back (Akeel Lynch led PSU with a 2.4 yards per carry average). But the Terps kept after Hackenberg all day, withstood some untimely pass interference calls and may have gotten robbed on a Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil pick-six when Yannick Ngakoue was called for an iffy late hit on the quarterback.

But each game more youngsters, Terps like Ngakoue, are emerging, while Likely was much-improved in pass coverage over a week ago, the pesky mighty-mite coming up big on some key pass-defenses against PSU.

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