Five Things We Learned: Maryland
On Saturday the Maryland Terrapins came into Beaver Stadium riding high on an undefeated record and ready to test themselves against the Nittany Lions. They held their own against PSU for the first half and pulled to within just three points with 52 seconds left in the second quarter. But, Penn State got the ball back with two timeouts and drove down the field to set up Saquon Barkley for an electric 45-yard touchdown run to end the half on a high note for the home team. The Nittany Lions would go on to score 14 more points in the second half for a dominating 38-14 win. Here are five things to take away from the game against Maryland:
1. Penn State may have found its identity: the read-option.
49 carries for 283 yards, two touchdowns, and 5.8 yards per carry. Those are the combined rushing stats for Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley on Saturday afternoon. Between all others who received carries and all passing attempts, Penn State ran just 31 other plays. That is absurd.
The Nittany Lions abused the Terrapins all day using the read option, with the occasional change up of a designed quarterback run to catch the Maryland linebackers on their heels. Having two freak athletes like McSorley and Barkley in the backfield gives the defense one more threat to worry about and was just too much for the untested Terrapins defense.
Whether such reliance on the read-option will fly against teams like Ohio State remains to be seen. If James Franklin is smart, he should throw in some more wrinkles to his running game before the Buckeyes come to town on October 22. Handing off to Barkley out of the I-formation or even the pistol could help get the star running back going north and south instead of laterally as he has to taking handoffs in the shotgun.
2. Don’t mess with Joey Julius.
When your kicker is the better part of 300 pounds and laying wood like Ray Lewis, he’s fun to watch and root for. When this same kicker bravely admits that he’s fighting an eating disorder and offers to help others helping with similar mental conditions, he becomes a folk hero. That’s why chants of, “Joey, Joey…” rang out in Beaver Stadium every time Penn State lined up to kick off.
Then it happened. For the second straight week, a Big Ten opponent targeted Joey Julius in the open field with a late hit. This time it was Maryland linebacker Isiah Davis, who was promptly ejected from the game. At no point on Saturday afternoon was Beaver Stadium louder than when the fans collectively jeered Davis off the field. Not after Barkley’s touchdown run just before the half, not during any Maryland third down attempt. After that hit, Penn State seemed energized by playing for their teammate whereas Maryland seemed downtrodden by the pure hatred oozing from the stands. Any chance of Maryland winning that game evaporated after the hit on Julius.
3. The defense played well.
Last week against Minnesota, safety Marcus Allen gobbled up 22 tackles with the next highest total on the Nittany Lions defense coming from Cameron Brown with just nine. When a safety is making such a ridiculous amount of tackles, your defense is not having a great game.
This week, the tackles were spread much more equitably. Brandon Smith led the team with 17 followed by Marcus Allen with 7. The fact that Penn State only let up 14 points to Maryland didn’t hurt either. Obviously this happened against a clearly inferior Maryland team, but this performance could serve as a stepping stone towards improvement for the defense against good teams as the season wears on.
4. Penn State has a clear path to a bowl game.
The past two weeks were must-win games for Penn State if they wanted to stay on path to a minimum of seven wins and a bowl game berth. They did what they needed to do. With six games left, three or four more wins is very doable for James Franklin’s squad.
5. Momentum, momentum, momentum.
Beating the Golder Gophers in overtime was entertaining for the fans and important in showing the Nittany Lions can win games that come down to the wire, this Maryland game will give the team confidence on both sides of the ball.
Penn State will have a chance to upset #2 Ohio State at home after their bye week. While that’s of course unlikely after #4 Michigan booted the Nittany Lion’s out of the Big House 49-10, this team will be fresh and in a positive mindset, not to mention the home field advantage of a packed Beaver Stadium for a game under the lights.
Tyler Olson is a freshman majoring in print journalism and pursuing minors in Spanish and political science. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.