Maryland football’s sudden spate of penalties contributing to two-game losing streak

“Disappointed in our effort. Disappointed in the discipline we played with tonight,” first-year Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. "We were outcoached.

One of the goals first-year Maryland football coach Mike Locksley stated after taking the job last December, and reiterated several times in the months since, was for the Terps to cut down on penalties.

A year ago, Maryland was the most penalized team in the Big Ten and the fifth most out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The Terps committed 8.33 penalties a game and also ranked last in the Big Ten with 79.7 penalty yards a game. Only South Alabama averaged more among FBS teams.


After being a little too sloppy for Locksley’s liking in that area over the first two games this season, when the Terps committed five apiece in blowout wins over Howard and then-No. 21 Syracuse, penalties have been a big part of back-to-back losses to Temple and No. 12 Penn State.

Maryland’s nine penalties for 85 yards in Friday night’s 59-0 loss to the Nittany Lions were not as costly in the game’s outcome as the nine for 88 yards were nearly two weeks earlier in a 20-17 road loss to the Owls. But they demonstrated a lack of discipline and execution that contributed to the blowout.


“If you have any penalties against a good team like Penn State, it’s going to have a big effect on us, as a defense and as an offense, every phase of the game," senior senior linebacker Keandre Jones.

It left Locksley clearly frustrated during his postgame news conference at Maryland Stadium and will continue to be a focal point as the Terps prepare for their next game Saturday at Rutgers (1-3).

If there’s any consolation, the Scarlet Knights are the most penalized team in the Big Ten. Their average of 8.5 penalties a game are tied for 117th nationally and their 77.8 penalty yards a game rank 122nd. Rutgers had nine penalties for 70 yards in Saturday’s 52-0 loss at No. 20 Michigan.

After the past two games, Maryland (2-2) is committing seven penalties a game, with 62 penalty yards a game. The Terps rank 11th in the Big Ten in both penalties per game and average penalty yards. They are tied for 86th in FBS for penalties a game and rank 91st in penalty yard average a game. Though it’s an improvement from last season, it’s trending in the wrong direction.

“It starts with playing with discipline and not beating yourself,” Locksley said after Friday’s game. “As far as I’ve said many times, you lose way more games than you win. I’ll give Penn State credit, but if you look at the way the game started, we didn’t do a great job of playing with discipline.

”We had a lot of penalties early in the game, the turnover down in the red zone. Those are all things that are 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.”

Unlike the Temple game, when Maryland committed three costly penalties on what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown drive for the Owls in the fourth quarter, the Terps had problems with penalties early against the Nittany Lions.

After throwing the first of two interceptions on his first eight passes, graduate transfer quarterback Josh Jackson’s unsportsmanlike penalty on Penn State linebacker Jan Johnson, who had made the pick, helped give the Nittany Lions possession at the Maryland 8-yard line.

Quarterback Sean Clifford scored on his team’s first play from scrimmage.

False starts on the offensive line were a problem on the next two possessions for the Terps. The first by junior guard Marcus Minor turned a third-and-5 into a third-and-10 at the Maryland 25. The other was by redshirt senior guard Ellis McKennie, after the Terps had a first down at the Penn State 22.

After getting to the 11, Jackson was intercepted a second time.

During a 10-play, 95-yard touchdown drive that followed, Penn State receiver Dan Chisena caught a 40-yard pass from Clifford despite a Maryland defender draped on him and whistled for pass interference. Three plays later, Terps safety Antoine Brooks Jr. was called for a facemask penalty on third-and-12 at the Maryland 29.


Three runs by sophomore Ricky Slade led to a 3-yard touchdown and a 21-0 hole for Maryland.

On Penn State’s next possession, the Terps committed penalties on back-to-back snaps, a personal foul against Deon Jones that resulted in the redshirt sophomore safety being ejected for targeting, and a offside call at the Maryland 23.

Two plays later, Clifford hit tight end Nick Bowers for a 15-yard touchdown and a 28-0 lead. Clifford completed his first nine passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns, threw for a school-record 287 yards by halftime and finished his night early. He wound up 26 of 31 for 398 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception by freshman safety Nick Cross.

“As a team, that was probably the most disappointing part of this game. We beat ourselves in the first half,” McKennie said. “We were moving the ball and we beat ourselves. That is something we’re going to have to figure out as a team. How do we get more disciplined? Not beat ourselves early in games to give ourselves a shot.”

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