By halftime, however, many fans had departed, while the white-clad Penn State contingent filled the night with their cheers. And the opportunities to applaud the No. 12 Nittany Lions’ success were plentiful in a 59-0 rout of Maryland that served as a stark reminder of the gap that remains between the Terrapins and the powers that surround them in the Big Ten.
“Disappointed in our effort, disappointed in the discipline we played with tonight,” Locksley said after the loss. “We were out-coached. We were outplayed.”
In the past three meetings, Penn State has outscored Maryland 163-6, a monstrous margin between the Terps (2-2) and a major recruiting rival in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region. Despite those recent results, Maryland’s offensive prowess early this season created confidence that the Terps were ushering in a new era.
Penn State (4-0), which had shown some vulnerabilities in its first three games, had other ideas. The Nittany Lions’ dynamic playmakers showed early that their speed would be too much on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Josh Jackson threw an interception on Maryland’s opening drive — the same way the team’s loss began two weeks ago against Temple — and Penn State scored on the following play. Jackson had already thrown another interception before the first quarter ended. The graduate transfer from Virginia Tech called his showing against Temple “probably one of my worst games in college,” and this one spiraled in a similar fashion. (For the first time this season, Jackson was not available to the media after the game.) Jackson threw for 65 yards, completing 10 of 21 passes.
“What I’m most disappointed in,” Locksley said, “is I’ve got to figure out a way to get our quarterbacks having confidence and playing the way we played the first two weeks.”
Backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome entered the game for two straight possessions in the second quarter, but he couldn’t spark a productive series — emblematic of a night when nothing worked for the Terps.
In their Big Ten opener, the Terrapins accumulated just 128 offensive yards (68 passing and 60 rushing) with nearly as many in the opposite direction from nine penalties for 85 yards. The only time Maryland threatened near the goal line, Jackson threw an interception.
“We had a lot of penalties early in the game, the turnover down in the red zone,” Locksley said. “Those were all things that were self-inflicted. So to close the gap, good teams don’t beat themselves. Right now we’re not playing that type of football and it’s up to me to figure out how to get us to play that way.”
Penn State, meanwhile, did just about whatever it wanted, racking up 619 yards, averaging 7.6 per play. Maryland’s brightest moment came when freshman defensive back Nick Cross grabbed his first career interception, staying in bounds on the sideline. Maryland, though, ultimately had to punt on the ensuing drive.
The turnover proved to be a rare mistake for Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford, who threw for 398 yards and completed 26 of 31 passes. Receiver KJ Hamler fueled the offense, with six catches for 108 yards, including a 58-yard score in which he left a handful of Terps in his wake. Penn State’s explosive attack didn’t slow a bit until the Nittany Lions let their backup quarterback play. Yet Penn State’s control of the game never wavered.
“Through all our training, we know what it feels like to get punched in the face, to face adversity and try to come back from it,” senior offensive lineman Ellis McKennie said. “Today we just weren’t able to rebound.”
Thirteen Penn State players caught passes against a Maryland secondary depleted after Marcus Lewis’s knee injury and Deon Jones’s ejection for targeting. The Terrapins’ already thin offensive line also lost veteran right tackle Marcus Minor to a dislocated toe in the first quarter.
The Terps must face the Nittany Lions — along with Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State — each season as part of their Big Ten East slate. That was the challenge for Locksley when he took this job, and it’ll be the one that persists throughout his tenure. Dating back to the start of the 2015 season, Maryland is 1-16 against those top-tier programs with three more chances coming later this season. But for now, the Terps remain firmly on a tier below. And nights like Friday only offer a reminder of just how far they have to go.