STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Maryland football is so close, yet so far away.
After opening the season with an impressive 6-2 record and becoming bowl-eligible for the second straight year, the Terps appeared to be creeping ever closer to the top of the Big Ten.
Saturday’s 30-0 loss to No. 14 Penn State — their second straight defeat — served as yet another reminder of how large the gap is between the Terps and the conference’s elite.
Similar to last week’s loss to Wisconsin, Maryland’s inability to stop the run coupled with an inept offensive performance put the team in a steep early deficit it couldn’t overcome. It’s the first time the Terps have been shut out since a 59-0 loss to Penn State in 2019.
When coach Mike Locksley sat in front of reporters after a deflating loss at Beaver Stadium, he didn’t blame the weather for Maryland’s struggles.
“It is time that we, starting with myself, take a deep look at everything we’re doing — on offense, on defense, on special teams — and find a way to get us back on the right track,” Locksley said.
With a matchup against No. 2 Ohio State looming, Locksley said his deep look into the program will require an evaluation of personnel, scheme and players. “Every aspect of it. What we’re calling, how we’re calling it,” he said.
For redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, the program’s all-time leader in total offense, the Nittany Lions (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) proved to be a nightmare. Tagovailoa struggled throughout, completing 11 of 22 passes for 74 yards, the lowest total of his Terps career. The Alabama transfer looked rattled in the pocket, as the offensive line provided little to no protection.
Penn State totaled seven sacks and six quarterback hits, its linebackers routinely flying into the backfield with ease. The Nittany Lions had five players record a sack, including former Maryland outside linebacker Chop Robinson, who had two.
Since Tagovailoa arrived in College Park, Maryland goes as far as its quarterback, and it showed Saturday. The Terps (6-4, 3-4) recorded 134 total yards, including just 27 in the first half. They had minus-10 yards on their first three possessions.
Tagovailoa, who has just 151 passing yards since returning from a sprained MCL, was replaced by redshirt freshman Billy Edwards Jr. in the fourth quarter. Edwards then suffered an apparent leg injury while fumbling on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-short with 3:40 left in regulation.
“It takes not just our quarterback to play great,” Locksley said. “It takes the players around him. It takes calling things that we can get executed ... I think he’s just like the rest of us on the offensive side of the ball. We haven’t played very well.”
While Maryland’s offense struggled to generate any momentum, the Nittany Lions ran all over the field. Led by running back Nick Singleton (11 carries for 122 yards and two touchdowns), Penn State picked up 249 of its 413 yards on the ground.
“We work on [our run defense] throughout the week,” junior safety Beau Brade said. “It really comes down to fitting the right holes and setting the edges.”
Quarterback Sean Clifford completed 12 of 23 passes for 139 yards and a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brenton Strange in the first quarter, but it was Penn State’s running game that led the way. The Nittany Lions outgained Maryland 190-7 on the ground in the first half.
Even when the Maryland defense did make stops, it couldn’t get off the field. Facing a fourth-and-1 near midfield late in the first quarter, the Nittany Lions lined up in a T-formation before Clifford handed the ball to Singleton, who took off for a 45-yard touchdown run that gave Penn State a 14-0 lead.
Facing another fourth-and-1 in the second quarter, the Nittany Lions ran the same play and got the same result, as Singleton broke a few tackles before powering into the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown run to give Penn State a 21-0 advantage with 7:46 left.
“I didn’t see a lot of missed alignments,” Locksley said. “I saw a lot of missed tackles. I thought we had opportunities on a couple of the big ones they have where we didn’t make the play.”
It continued a worrying trend for the defense, as Maryland has allowed a combined 401 rushing yards in the first half over the past two games.
Although the Terps continue to make the necessary adjustments at halftime, limiting Penn State to three points in the second half, they are still longing for the day when they put together an all-around defensive effort.
“In the second half, we did our thing,” Brade said. “It’s that first half that falls apart. If we can come out strong, I feel like we will be good.”
The Big Ten was never going to be easy. But for Maryland to be labeled as more than just a seven-win program and receive the fan support it craves, the Terps first need to show they can hang with the best. Their 34-27 loss to Michigan in September showed signs of improvement, but Saturday’s defeat put them back to square one. Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, Maryland is 0-30 against ranked conference opponents.
“Now is not the time for us to panic,” Locksley said. “But it is time to take a hard look and make sure that we’re playing the right guys and doing the right things.”
No. 2 Ohio State at Maryland
Saturday, noon or 3:30 p.m.
TV: Chs. 2, 7
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