Despite Penn State pulling off a 31-30 road victory over Maryland in Baltimore Saturday, there was a plethora of lows for the Nittany Lions in this game. There were a lot learning experiences on areas where the Nittany Lions need to improve. Penn State should feel very fortunate to be leaving Maryland with a victory. Let's first take a look at the lows from this game.
The Low Five
Nothing Special: Nothing much special at all for the PSU special teams. In fact, special teams were a huge liability for Penn State in this game. A fumble on the final return (lucky the defense responded), horrid punting, the personal foul on a Terp field goal, the kickoff out of bounds, the final missed field goal — it was a comedy of errors for a special teams unit which put Penn State in the hole time and again.
Playin' Around: The play-calling from the offensive staff continues to be downright baffling. Running the option with Christian Hackenberg? The staff did no favors for RB Saquon Barkley, who ran for 65 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown, and rhankfully managed to leave Baltimore in one piece despite running up the gut into a Terrapin stuffed box time and again. As an aside, the offensive line had its hands full with tons of pressure packages. The worst, though, had to be splitting out Hackenberg in the Wildcat formation. I can only guess that this was a tribute to Zack Mills, as Hackenberg broke his school record for completions. But does anyone believe he adds any threat as a receiver?
All Long: Speaking of Hackenberg, unfortuntately, he has zero consistency when it comes to the short and intermediate passing games, sailing and short-arming passes time and again. No doubt he'll get praise for going deep early and often and passing for 315 yards and three touchdowns while going 13 for 29. But the credit largely goes to his receivers — primarily Chris Godwin and DeSean Hamilton (more on them in the highs) — who adjusted time and again to short and mis-targeted balls. It's shocking how a three-year starter cannot consistently deliver balls 15, 10 or even five yards — and mishandles a key snap resulting in a fumble with the game on the line.
Hole-y Coverage: While Maryland featured one of the worst secondaries in the nation, Penn State's often appeared to given it a run for its money, making Maryland Perry Hills look like an All-Big Ten quarterback. There were wide-open holes that allowed him to pass for 225 yards while going 19 for 28. To be fair, the secondary stepped up in critical moments, grabbing three interceptions, including the game-clincher by Malik Golden. But the unit has to nail down the coverage given they will be facing strong passers down the road.
Tick Tock: It feels like this theme comes up as a low every week, but fundamental clock management is horrid. Taking a delay of game as the game came down the wire and then burning up all three timeouts early, the PSU staff is lucky, lucky, lucky this did not come back to bite them in the tail in a closer than close game.
Bait and Tackle: Despite some key, critical plays by the defense, the tackling technique — paritcularly in space — made Marryland look fantastic at times. In fact, Hills ran for 124 yards on 26 carries thanks largely to high-arm tackles by the defensive front of PSU.
The High Five
Bowled Over: Sure, it was anything but attractive, but Penn State overall never quit and (thanks largely to the defense and wideouts) managed a victory and moved on to 6-2 on the year to become bowl eligible.
Front Men: While there were times poor tackling and angles from the Penn State defensive front, the D as a whole once again carried the Nittany Lions when it counted, grabbing three interceptions and forcing three fumbles. Ends Carl Nassib and Garrett Sickles along with tackles Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel got better as the game progressed, and tore things up when the chips were down. These guys never quit despite the offense regularly squandering the opportunities they creates.
Great Reception: Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton — and even Geno Lewis and Saeed Blacknall — were the sparks for the offense in this game. Hamilton and Godwin went up for a series of jump balls and created huge plays time and again. The duo combined for 231 yards and two touchdowns, and kept Penn State in this game.
'Backer Attack: Troy Reeder and Brandon Bell we're huge in this game. Reeder led all players with 10 tackles (nine solo) while Bell was a disruptive force in the Maryland pocket, grabbing six tackles (four solo) and a sack. Bell's play certainly looked the part in the No. 11 jersey.
Crowd Sourcing: It was clear that Nittany Nation came out in force for this game in Maryland. The crowd was rowdy when the Terrapins had the ball, which was expected given the massive number of Lions from Maryland.