BALTIMORE, Md. -- Last year, pregame handshakes seemed a big part of the Big Ten’s budding new rivalry. This season, Maryland’s frustrating 31-30 loss to the Nittany Lions at M&T Bank Stadium, just left the Terrapins shaking their heads.
Maryland (2-5, 0-3) turned the ball over five times, twice settled for field goals in the red zone, had trouble defending deep passes and found themselves on the short end of a game the Terrapins dominated on paper, a far cry from the previous three consecutive losses before the bye week, all by 21 points or more.
“We’re way beyond moral victories,” said Maryland interim head coach Mike Locksley after his debut. “I really feel collectively we did leave it all out on the field as a team, and now we’ve got some guys (in the locker room) pretty hurt because this was a game we really wanted. We didn’t do the things to take it, and we’ve got to become that type team.”
But in a see-saw game that saw the lead change hands six times, Maryland went ahead with 51 seconds left in the third quarter when quarterback Perry Hills hit DeAndre Lane on a 10-yard scoring pass to make it 27-24. Hills was valiant all day – rushing 26 times for 124 yards and completing 19-of-28 passes for 228 yards and a score.
But perhaps emblematic of the entire football program, Hills also had two fumbles and three interceptions, the bad along with the good. His final pick came with just 1:21 in the game, his high throw off Malcolm Culmer’s hand intercepted by Penn State safety Malik Golden at the Maryland 42. Again, a symbol of the Maryland program, Hills played with emotion, exhorting teammates and throwing his body into the fray all afternoon.
“We had a lot of opportunities to take control of the game,” said Hills. “They were a good team, but we left some things out there on the field that we wish we could have back.”
Mostly with Hills at QB (Shane Cockerille had a brief stint in the Maryland Wildcat look), the Terrapins racked up their most total yards (466) since the season-opening win over Richmond (479). The 30 points was also the most points since their last win, the 35-17 victory over South Florida on Sept. 19, five games ago.
“The big thing was we were able to mix some things up,” said Locksley. “We were able to open up the formations (and) because of their blitzing in the run-game we were able to pop a few plays in the zone-read game and the option-game. Perry made some plays early off what they do.”
But while Maryland out-gained Penn State (6-2, 3-1) by a 466-363 margin, and had nearly a 16-minute edge in time of possession, the Terrapins came to regret settling for field goals twice in the red zone and in turning the ball over those five times.
“Where we can improve starts with decision-making in the passing game,” said Locksley of Hills and the offense. “We’re a team that right now when you look at us, we throw the ball when we have to. We do take some shots down the field with our play-action game, and we were able to hit a few of those shots today. When you’re able to run the ball you manufacture those big plays. It’s just when we get in those third-and-long situations when we have to drop back, protect and throw and read coverage, we still have some work to do there.”
So, apparently, does Penn State and ballyhooed quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who hit just 13 of his 29 passes but did so for a whopping 315 yards and three touchdowns, the last one, a 27-yard strike to Geno Lewis that put PSU up for good at 31-27 with 13:39 to play.
Most frustratingly, Maryland was often in proper position on most of Hackenberg’s long completions. “The big plays through the air was a by-product of us being aggressive on the defensive side of the ball,” said Locksley. “As I told those guys going into the game, I didn’t want them to play tentatively. I wanted them to be aggressive at the line of scrimmage. I thought for the most part, when you look at those big plays, we had guys in position, but we didn’t play the ball in the air. That’s a fundamental thing that we’ve got to get corrected.
The Terps, after a tumultuous couple of weeks off, including the firing of Randy Edsall, seemed to play looser and freer on this day before 68,948 fans in Baltimore. On defense, that meant coordinator Keith Dudzinski’s unit held Penn State to just 48 yards rushing on 31 carries. Even next-big-thing Saquon Barkley could pick up only 65 yards on 20 carries, and four sacks pushed the team total lower.
“It’s always frustrating when you lose the game,” said defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who had four tackles, two sacks and forced an intentional grounding penalty. “Everybody gave 100 percent. We definitely made a lot of progress. You see guys coming together, playing like a family.”
Hackenberg completed just those 13 passes, but they came in big chunks. Four different Lion receivers had at least one play of 25-yards-or-more against a high-risk, high-reward Terp scheme featuring more man-to-man and more blitzes, offering some new looks Penn State coach James Franklin said he hadn’t seen on tape coming into the Big Ten tilt.
At the end of the third quarter, the Nittany Lions mounted a drive to regain the lead. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on A.J. Hendy helped jump-start the drive and then on a third-and-15, Hackenberg hit Chris Godwin on a slant that Godwin turned into a 27-yard gain with some shoddy Maryland tackling on the final play of the third quarter.
Four plays into the fourth quarter, at 13:39. Hackenberg hit Lewis on that 27-yard scoring strike, Lewis going over top of Sean Davis to make the catch for a 31-27 Penn State lead.
Hills came back on the ensuing Maryland possession, hitting Taivon Jacobs for 43 yards on one of those play-action looks, and though Maryland would drive to the 18-yard line, they settled for a Brad Craddock 36-yard field goal. But Penn State’s Grant Hayley roughed Craddock on the kick, drawing a 15-yard personal foul penalty. With new life at the 9-yard line, the Terrapins still couldn’t punch it in. Craddock hit a 29-yard field to make it 31-30 with 10:15 left, and start a wild sequence of events.
Nick Scott, hit hard by Darnell Savage on the kickoff return, fumbled and Alvin Hill recovered for Maryland at the PSU 32.
The Terrapins, looking for a big play, got the kind of big play they didn’t want when blitzing Brandon Bell hit Hills and forced a fumble that defensive end Garrett Sickels recovered and rumbled 36 yards.
Now with Penn State threatening to add another score, the Maryland defense – which held the Lions to 3-of-13 on third down conversions – got another stop. Joey Julius’ 45-yard field goal attempt faded just wide left.
The Nittany Lions were finally figuring out the pesky Hills and the Maryland offense. On a fourth down and two yards, Hills found nothing open and threw an interception to Trevor Williams. Penn State got one first down but then on a third down, Hackenberg dropped the shotgun snap and was swarmed under, blitzing defensive back Denzel Conyers recovering at the PSU 45 with 5:17left.
Brandon Ross, on his way to 58 yards on 10 carries, was stopped for no gain. Hills ran and got flipped on a big hit for a 5-yard gain, and then got sacked for a 5-yard loss. On fourth-and-10, Hills hit Levern Jacobs but for just seven yards, and the Terps turned the ball over on downs with 3:05play.
They forced Penn State’s sixth punt but with just 1:21 to play, setting the stage for Hills’ final interception.
“We just have to take it to heart,” said Hills. “You hate to have this feeling so you adjust and you build from it. We’re going to go back and prepare like we’ve never prepared before because there are still a lot of games left, and you let this affect you.”
Maryland travels to No. 12 Iowa next week before returning home Nov. 7 to host Wisconsin back at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium.
“I saw a different team today,” said Ross. “There was a lot more energy and focus. Everybody noticed it. I think we just need to keep that up these last five games and see what happens.”
See-Saw Affair Draws Interest in M&T Bank Stadium
The Maryland defense forced a three-and-out on the first Penn State possession in the second half, and then Hills got rolling. He gained 55 yards on the 68-yard march, including a shot-out-a-cannon 36-yard run up the gut.
Facing a third-and-goal at the 10, Hills handed to Ross on a read-option, Ross got great blocks from Ryan Doyle and Kenny Goins, broke right and pranced into the end zone for a 20-17 lead at9:17.
“We have a lot of plays and a lot of checks,” said Ross. “It was just good-blocking by the o-linemen and I just read it out.”
It was a short-lived lead, though. Hackenberg hit DaeSean Hamilton for 31 yards, and two plays later found him again for a 20-yard score to complete the 7-play, 79-yard drive. Penn State led 24-20 with 5:32 to play in the third period.
Maryland came roaring back, though, even when a hold on the kickoff moved the Terrapins back to the 12-yard line. Ross had a 15-yard run and Hills hit Amba Etta-Tawo for 18 yards on a key third down conversion. Then Hills found Levern Jacobs for 17, and Malcolm Culmer for 11. Hills zipped 14 yards on an option run to the 10-yard line.
On the next play, Hills pumped to draw defenders away, and then connected with Lane at the left pylon for the 10-yard score, the first touchdown of Lane’s career. Craddock’s extra point made it 27-24, with 51 seconds left in the third period.
Penn State came back from a 13-7 deficit late in the first half, Hackenberg hitting two long passes, just as he had on PSU’s first scoring march. This time, he found Saeed Blacknall for 38 yards down the left sideline, and on the next play, hit Godwin for 37 yards and a score, despite interference from safety Anthony Nixon. With 3:09 left in the half, Penn State went up 14-13.
The Terrapins had their first three-and-out into a punt and Penn State took advantage. Hackenberg hit Mike Cornwell for 18 yards, and then on a third-and-15, bought time to find Hamilton for a 24-yard gain to the Maryland 25. But the Terp defense stiffened, and on third down, Will Likely batted away a pass in the end zone intended for Godwin. The Nittany Lions settled for Julius’ 40-yard field at 31 seconds to make it 17-13 at the end of a frustrating half for Maryland.
The Terrapins had controlled the ball early but had nothing to show for it until after Penn State scored. Likely took the kickoff back 30 yards and Hills hit Culmer between two defenders for a 48-yard gain. On the next play, Hills slashed into the end zone from12 yards to tie the game at 7-7 with 1:04 left in the first quarter.
The Maryland defense forced Penn State’s third punt of the first quarter, and with Cockerille in at quarterback, mounted another march with the Will Likely package of plays. He ran for 17, and four. But Wes Brown was stopped for a loss and then a delay penalty stalled the march further.
Craddock came on and just missed a 51-yard field goal attempt wide left, his first attempt in five games.
Terps Controlling Everywhere But Scoreboard
The Terrapins got a break when Tyler Burke hit Barkley and forced a fumble that Hendy pounced on at the 31-yard line. Hills and Maryland couldn’t get a first down, but this time, Craddock nailed a 44-yarder to Maryland up 10-7 at 9:35.
Ngakoue took over the next series, grabbing Hackenburg and forcing an intentional grounding penalty. The next play, he sniffed out a draw and hit Barkley for no gain, forcing another punt.
After a 37-yard PSU punt, Hills hit D.J Moore for 14 yards, and then Hills had a nine-yard run to pick up another first down. On a well-conceived play, a fake to Likely on a reverse ended up coming back the other way, Hills hitting Etta-Tawo for 10 yards to the 10-yard line.
Hills hit Likely for four yards, then ran for four, setting up a key third-and-goal at the two. The Lions charged into the backfield and forced a poor, hurried pitch by Hills that Brown fell on for a 9-yard loss. Craddock got another field goal, this one from 27 yards, and Maryland led 13-7, 3:52before the half.
Penn State had scored first after Maryland moved the ball up and down the field in the first quarter. Hackenberg, who missed on his first five passes, completed two long ones to move Penn State 83 yards in five plays. He hit Hamilton for 58 yards and then found Godwin for 40. Barkley scored from six yards on the next play at 2:49 of the first quarter.
Hamilton had five catches for 96 yards, and Godwin, four for 135. Levern Jacobs led Maryland with four grabs for 50 yards. Culmer had three for 65.
The Terrapins had opened with back-to-back 16-yard gains on the initial drive of the game, Hills hitting Moore, and then Ross rambling for 16, also. At midfield, Hills went deep and was intercepted by Grant Haley at the 4-yard line. The Terrapin defense kept PSU pinned back but the offense, after a 24-yard completion to Levern Jacobs, was forced to punt again.
The Nittany Lions were 3-and-out again and Hills had the Terps moving, running for 17 yards himself on one play but three plays later he was hit and fumbled the ball back to Penn State, setting the stage for the Lions’ scoring drive.
The backdrop of the story, and growing rivalry has Penn State coach Franklin famously Ralph Friedgen’s “coach in waiting” successor at Maryland back in 2010, and he and Locksley coached together on Friedgen’s early staff and before that, under Ron Vanderlinden.
“I was really excited all game,” said Ross. “A new coach and Penn State is our border rival. I really wanted to get a win. The team feels like it’s on our shoulders why Coach Edsall got fired. We knew we had to play better on both sides of the ball.”