Five Things We Learned: Penn State vs. Maryland
This past Saturday, M&T Bank Stadium showcased a back-and-forth conference battle where Penn State (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) and Maryland (2-5, 0-3 B1G) exchanged haymakers in a high scoring affair. Both squads struggled to find the endzone early, but once each team got its feet wet, points started flying off the board. The teams exploded for a combined 61 points and 829 total yards of offense in a game that saw the lead change hands six times. An interception by Malik Golden in the final two minutes secured a one-point, 31-30 Nittany Lion victory in their closest contest of the season. Here are five things to take away from the Lions’ first road win on the year:
1. Play calling receives necessary reboot
After eight weeks of wishy-washy production causing doubt in the team’s play-calling ability, the Penn State offense decided to switch it up and make use of the talent at quarterback and wide receiver.
Christian Hackenberg threw the ball 29 times for 315 yards in the victory, earning his first 300-yard passing game of the season. This came off of what was the quarterback’s season low in pass attempts last week against Ohio State, where Hackenberg threw the ball just 13 times.
Penn State head coach James Franklin expressed his frustration following the loss in Columbus and made some much needed adjustments against the Terrapins.
Not only did the team air the ball out more, going for numerous shots down field, but they also mixed in some trick plays. This included a play where left tackle Paris Palmer lined up in the slot and another where wide receiver Geno Lewis found a wide open Akeel Lynch downfield, only to have the ball dropped.
The trick plays may not have worked, but the switch in focus on offense proved to be successful on Saturday and could potentially continue down the stretch of the season.
2. Thank Godwin for the receivers
While Christian Hackenberg put up admirable numbers, the wide receivers were the ones that stole the show.
All but 33 of Hackenberg’s total yardage came on passes that gained 20 yards or more. Those passes accounted for nine of his 13 completions and the vast majority were go-and-get-them, 50-50 balls for the wide receivers.
Chris Godwin especially stood out, hauling in four catches for 135 yards and a score. Godwin has been the team’s most reliable deep threat all season, as he is averaging 18.5 yards per catch on the year and has averaged 34 yards per catch in the last two games.
3. Hackenberg rewriting the record book
Many recruits come to Penn State in hope of leaving a mark on the University and college football. Christian Hackenberg did just that on Saturday and helped make his name one to be remembered in Happy Valley for years to come.
The captain wrote his name at the top of Penn State’s record book by becoming the program’s new career leader in passing yards (7,453) and completions (608). It took the junior just two and a half years to pass former four-year starter Zach Mills, the previous owner of the records, and take over the marks that have stood since 2004.
The signal-caller will be facing some tough decisions in the offseason on whether to come back for his senior year or venture into the NFL, but regardless of his choice, Hackenberg can know that he has left a mark in University Park and his success will be a target for future generations of recruits.
4. Turnover margin decides ballgames
One of the most important stats in all of football, turnover margin, became absolutely paramount at the game in Baltimore. With a contest that never saw a lead of more than seven, turnovers became the vital factor in determining the outcome.
Both teams had their challenges in holding onto the ball, but it was the Terrapins who lost the turnover battle, 5-3.
Their turnovers came at crucial times, as the Terrapins turned it over on their first and last drives of the game, along with two other times while failing to capitalize on Penn State mistakes.
The Nittany Lions coughed up the ball quite a bit as well, but their misfortunes were minimal in comparison to those of their counterparts.
Maryland now owns the second-worst turnover margin in the country at minus 13. The Lions are more fortunate, tied for 10th in the nation at plus nine.
For the second straight year, Penn State will be eligible for a bowl game.
Nittany nation rejoiced after the victory over Maryland since it meant the team will indeed have a postseason game and something to play for come season’s end.
Even with all the excitement, Franklin is keeping his week-by-week mentality.
“We’ll talk about it for about 30 seconds and move on and be back to being 1-0 again,” Franklin said in the post-game press conference.
This news is particularly special for the players who decided to commit to Penn State despite the NCAA sanctions that were announced back in 2012. The players committed fully knowing they may only play in a limited number of bowl games, if any at all, and ended up being rewarded when the bowl ban was dropped last year.
What bowl will they make? It’s too early to tell, but that will be secondary to the sheer joy of simply being able to represent the school in yet another postseason berth.
Ryan Berti is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter: @RBirdman7