There are few good remedies for a team on a three-game losing streak. A top-10 team is among the worst.
That’s where Maryland found itself, hosting No. 9 Penn State after a winless October. Saturday went similarly to most of the matchups between the two schools as the Nittany Lions emerged with a 51-15 victory.
The Terps’ fourth straight loss keeps them just short of bowl eligibility and marks another dispiriting effort against one of the Big Ten’s elite in a season that keeps devolving.
“We’re in the gutter and we’re doing everything we can to get out the gutter, but it’s hard, especially in this league,” linebacker Donnell Brown said.
The contest never felt evenly matched, but Maryland (5-4, 2-4 Big Ten) cut its deficit to 16 with just over 11 minutes left after scoring a touchdown and two-point conversion. A 51-yard return on the ensuing kickoff quickly squashed any positive emotion the thinned-out Terps fans had.
That set up a touchdown by Penn State (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten) that all but sealed the competitive portion of the day’s proceedings. Both plays drew cheers from the traveling white-and-blue-clad Nittany Lions fans who took over SECU Stadium.
“They were able to have their way with us today,” Maryland coach Michael Locksley said.
Allar picks away at Terps
For an instant in the second quarter, it looked like Maryland would get off the field on third down. It hadn’t bitten on a Penn State play-action fake and muzzled the tight end filtering to the flat.
But nobody marked Penn State quarterback Drew Allar, who saw a hole on the right side and darted through for 21 yards. He finished the drive with a well-placed touchdown pass, one of four for the first-year starter.
Allar finished 25-for-34 for 240 yards — his highest total since the season opener — and added 39 more on the ground. He was not sacked for just the second time in conference play.
“It was more play action, not really a lot of drop-back pass. ... He was getting that ball off. It was like three seconds or less,” Brown, who entered the game with sacks in three straight games, said. “So it was difficult to get back there.”
The Nittany Lions scored on nine of their 12 drives and had touchdowns on six. Maryland’s secondary had no answer for KeAndre Lambert-Smith, who caught eight passes for 95 yards.
His longest gain came on a 38-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter. Penn State picked up a Maryland blitz, giving Allar time to find his team’s leading receiver for the game and season on a deep in-breaker.
“We gave up a couple of slants,” Locksley said. “When you’re bringing zero pressure, the goal is to force them to throw the fade, force them to throw the ball outside. We lost leverage a couple of times early, which allowed big plays. ... We just didn’t match up well on the outside and didn’t play well enough.”
Offense goes in reverse
Taulia Tagovailoa started the game by completing 17 straight and 21 of his first 22. But, inexplicably, Maryland turned that into just seven points due to a flurry of negative plays.
Penn State played without former Terp and potential first-round pick Chop Robinson, a standout pass rusher — it didn’t matter.
Manny Diaz’s blitz-happy Nittany Lions had six sacks that lost Maryland a combined 47 yards. The Terps also couldn’t run the ball. Seven carries by running backs netted -6 yards.
“We wanted to run the ball out of spread sets and, for whatever reason, we couldn’t cover people up [in the run game],” Locksley said. “Then you get into where you’re behind the sticks and you’re forced to throw the ball, and we didn’t hold up in protection.”
The offensive ineptitude looked similar to last year’s matchup between the schools. Maryland did not score, Tagovailoa was sacked seven times and Robinson said postgame he could see Terps offensive players arguing with each other.
It’s unclear whether there was any such bickering on this year’s sideline, but the atmosphere was similarly grim — the Maryland student section emptied out, leaving an all-too-familiar scene for the home squad: empty stands in front of a scoreboard displaying a lopsided score.
Before last year’s game, Locksley emphasized that, because of the uncompetitive games between the two teams, the Terps and Nittany Lions did not have a rivalry. Two matchups with a combined minus-66 margin have done little but reinforce that notion.
And, while Locksley said the gap between Maryland and Penn State is smaller than Saturday’s 36-point chasm indicated, his team’s play in a season that was supposed to be a step forward for the program gives no indication that future outings will have better outcomes.