The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Maryland’s trying season ends with a blowout loss at Penn State

Penn State's Ricky Slade rushes for a touchdown in the Nittany Lions' 38-3 win over Maryland. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — For the past four weeks, the Maryland Terrapins have stood just one win — in some cases, just one drive or a single play — from bowl eligibility. An extra game would have extended this season, which showcased chaos from Maryland’s athletic department but resilience from the players, into December.

But as No. 12 Penn State plowed through the Terps’ defense and the Maryland offense could not lean on its usually effective running game, it became clear that this season would end here with a 38-3 loss. Maryland could not muster a spark that sent the game to the wire, as it did last week in its overtime loss to Ohio State or two weeks ago when the Terps were one successful drive from defeating Indiana.

Instead, the Terps suffered a gradual beatdown in State College, another road loss for a team that hasn’t won a Big Ten matchup on the road since September 2017.

“I love our players and they deserve all the credit, but everybody in our building did a great job,” interim coach Matt Canada said. “It stinks that we didn’t win today. And it really stinks the last two games we came up three points short. But this is one hell of a season, one hell of a group of kids.”

After this rainy season finale, Maryland’s next season will become the focus as the program decides whether to retain Canada or bring in a new face. When asked after the loss if he would like to become the team’s permanent coach, he told the assembled reporters that was not the story of the day and said, “I hope you write about our players.” Throughout the season, he has deflected questions about his future and always steered focus toward the team.

After six months to forget at Maryland, Coach Matt Canada led by remembering

Maryland’s program has operated with a relative sense of normalcy since the beginning of November, but before that, chaos and uncertainty were constants following the death in June of offensive lineman Jordan McNair after he suffered exertional heatstroke at an offseason workout. Two independent investigations concluded, and the findings circulated during game weeks. Before the Michigan State game, the university reinstated coach DJ Durkin on Tuesday and then fired him Wednesday. Yet the team managed to avoid a complete collapse, winning five games and coming just short of bowl eligibility.

“Just battling through adversity, that’s the biggest thing we can all take from this season,” senior defensive lineman Mbi Tanyi said. “…We lost our teammate, and to keep battling through, game in and game out, I can’t say how proud I am of everybody who put effort in.”

Before Saturday, Maryland (5-7, 3-6 Big Ten) ranked third in the conference with 244.4 rushing yards per game, but the Nittany Lions (9-3, 6-3) held Maryland to just 74 rushing yards on 36 attempts. Maryland played without Terrance Davis and Sean Christie, two usual starters on the offensive line. Anthony McFarland, the redshirt freshman star of the Terps’ near-upset of Ohio State, followed his 298-yard performance with just 12 yards on six carries and had to leave the game in the second half. Senior Ty Johnson also could not play, thinning the running backs group to essentially just sophomores Javon Leake and Tayon Fleet-Davis.

Canada said a handful of others dealt with injuries through the week and in the game, mentioning specifically how senior defensive back Darnell Savage Jr. was “out there playing basically on one leg.”

“But what these guys did, they played hard every game,” Canada said. “Anybody that wants to question that is wrong. … You look across the country as soon as things start happening, adversity hits, seniors start tapping out to get ready for the draft. Nobody did that on our team."

Maryland quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome completed 14 of 23 passes for 185 yards. Pigrome, who had a few successful deep passes against Ohio State, threw a 48-yard pass to freshman Brian Cobbs, setting up a 26-yard field goal from freshman Joseph Petrino in the first quarter that cut Penn State’s early lead to 7-3. Those proved to be Maryland’s only points of the game.

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, an Ashburn, Va., native, celebrated his senior day by throwing for 230 yards and a touchdown and running for 64 yards and two more scores. His night ended to a standing ovation midway through the fourth quarter. Led by McSorley, the Nittany Lions accumulated 565 total yards to Maryland’s 259.

Maryland’s defense had a positive moment when RaVon Davis forced a fumble that Antwaine Richardson recovered, but the Terrapins' drive that followed ended with a missed 31-yard field goal.

The Terps' already-struggling defense lost one of its best players early in the second half when linebacker Tre Watson was called for targeting for the third time this season. One play after Watson left the game, Penn State running back Ricky Slade (Hylton High) ran for an eight-yard touchdown to extend the Nittany Lions’ lead to 24-3.

Rarely this year has Maryland trailed by a significant margin and then come back to win. Against Bowling Green back in September, the Terps were down by seven points early before winning in a blowout. On Saturday, Penn State led by 11 by the end of the first quarter and by 14 at halftime. The Nittany Lions continued to roll past Maryland, which couldn’t prevent its season from reaching a premature end.

“I wish we would have played better; I wish I had coached better,” Canada said. “But you go all the way back to when this started getting loose, you say you’re going to play these games as close as we did and win five games, I bet everybody would have said no way. These kids deserve all the credit.”

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