After nearly every tough loss, when the media was picking apart the mistakes his team had made, Joe Paterno used to say, You know, sometimes you have to give the other guy credit.
Saturday at Beaver Stadium, where another terrific effort by the Penn State defense was ruined by the Nittany Lions struggling, mistake-prone offense and oft-inept punting game, was most definitely NOT one of those times.
The other guy, in this instance, was new Big Ten member Maryland, a program whose overall lack of top-level talent was trumped only by its complete lack of sportsmanship. And yet the Terps, who allowed 135 points in their previous three games, snuck out of a chilly Beaver Stadium with a 20-19 win.
Maryland had 196 TOTAL yards, had 35 rushing yards on 30 attempts and went 1 of 14 on third down.
So how does a team do THAT and win? With a little help from the other guy, thats how.
Penn States offense was nearly as bad statistically in every department, with 219 total yards, 42 yards on 41 carries and a 6-of-20 showing on third down.
There were a couple of key differences, though. When given opportunities by its defense and special teams, the Maryland offense capitalized. It had four scoring drives (two TDs, two field goals), and they averaged only 33 yards (with none longer than 48). The game-winning drive covered 17 yards (more on that later).
The Lions were also completely outclassed in the punting department (again). In a game where the teams combined for 19 punts, that proved deadly.
It should be noted that the PSU offense was without its best lineman, as left tackle Donovan Smith was not even on the sideline due to an undisclosed injury. And that forced a crazy reshuffling of an already thin unit.
While that may explain the five more sacks QB Christian Hackenberg absorbed, it by no means explains the four fumbles (including one on PSUs last offensive play of the game), three lost fumbles, one interception, and numerous bad passes and dropped balls.
And it most certainly does not explain a net punting average of 35.8 yards, or nearly six full yards less than Marylands clip.
It all added up to an ugly loss. On an ugly day. Against an ugly opponent.
Heres how we saw things.
MAN OF THE HOURK Sam Ficken kept the Lions in the game by making all four of his field-goal attempts, including boots of 47 and 48 yards. Impressive stuff on a breezy day. For a while, the 48-yarder midway through the fourth quarter looked like it might be the game-winner.
CLOSE SECONDDE Deion Barnes is playing the best football of his Penn State career. He had two sacks and a forced fumble Saturday. He also had six tackles.
CLOSE THIRDS Marcus Allen made up for a silly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty early in the game by making a team-high 11 tackles. He also had a sack for minus-11 yards.
TURNING POINTPenn States disastrous punting game struck again, this time in the form of a 37-yarder by new starter Dan Pasquariello that Terp return man Stefon Diggs brought back 15 yards to the PSU 42 with 216 remaining. UMD only needed one first down to get into field-goal range, and Brad Craddock kicked what turned out to be the game-winning 43-yarder with 51 seconds left.
SOLID STRATEGYMaryland coach Randy Esdall had no problem playing field position all game long. Wise move, considering how effective the Terp special teams are and how bad PSUs punting is.
NUMBERS GAMEPenn State had 55 lost rushing yards, with 44 coming on all of those Hackenberg sacks. Maryland had 74 lost rushing yards. So in the game ball-carriers were thrown for 129 yards in losses.
BUSINESS AS USUALLB Mike Hull had nine more tackles and recovered a fumble.
SPECIAL DELIVERYAs bad as the actual punting was (in terms of the foot meeting the ball), PSUs coverage team did a nice job on super-dangerous return man William Likely. The Big Ten leader in average yards per return going in (16.3), he had a total of minus-7 yards Saturday.
WHATS UP WITH?
The bush-league pre-game antics by the Terrapins. Marching over toward the PSU sideline waving Maryland and United States flags (were the Terps insinuating the Lions were un-American?). The captains refusing to shake hands before the coin toss. Heres hoping UMDs lame attempts to make this a rivalry were a one-time deal and there is a little more class on display the next time these two teams meet.
Penn States sudden case of butterfingers. It proved costly. Hackenberg had two balls slip out of his hands with no defender near him, though head coach James Franklin claimed his QB was brushed by a running back on one. KR Grant Haley lost a fumble that set up a Maryland touchdown. Then there was a fumbled snap on PSUs last offensive play, a fourth-down. PSU recovered but turned it over on downs.
Hackenberg playing what may have been his worst half as a Lion to open the game. Yes, he faced a lot of pressure. But that does not completely excuse 8 of 21 for 74 yards and an interception. He also threw a pick six that was wiped out by a roughing call.
Penn State focusing on burning clock up 19-17 with 322 remaining and the ball at its own 17. The Lions crashed Akeel Lynch into the line three times, as Franklin said he was going by the book. Apparently Edsall read that book, too, as the Terps ganged up on the line to force a fourth-and-3 from the PSU 20. They also spent two timeouts to save clock. Listen, were all for trying to establish the running game. But deep in your own territory late in the game, with a struggling punter, is probably not the best place and time to do that. This scenario led to the game-changing scenario outlined above.
HIDDEN HEROChris Gulla, benched as the starting punter, held for Ficken all day and must have done a great job there.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLEDT Austin Johnson had six tackles and a sack.
DID YOU NOTICE?
Smith, who sustained an undisclosed injury late in the Ohio State game, did not play vs. Maryland. In fact, he was nowhere to be seen on the sideline.
Lynch made his first career start. He had 21 carries for 51 yards.
RB Bill Belton came off the bench but only got eight carries (for 19 yards).
G Miles Dieffenbach, who is trying to return from a torn ACL sustained in the spring, was in street clothes for this game. However, the offensive co-captain did go out for the coin flip.
UNANSWERED QUESTIONWill Penn State win another game this season? It is a fair question to ask given the struggles of the offense and punting game.