COLLEGE PARK — Maryland football nearly made history — but not the good kind.
The Terps almost set a program record for the fewest rushing yards in a game, and Penn State, which is No. 11 in the College Football Playoff rankings, used four touchdown passes from sophomore quarterback Drew Allar — including three in the first half — to cruise to a 51-15 victory Saturday evening at SECU Stadium.
The announced attendance of 51,802 marked the program’s first sellout crowd since Sept. 22, 2019, when 53,228 watched that squad get blasted by the Nittany Lions, 59-0.
Fans also got to see Maryland’s ground attack become nonexistent. The offense was limited by Penn State to minus-49 yards on 16 carries. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Billy Edwards Jr. was the team’s leading rusher with 4 yards on one attempt — the last play of the game.
The program record for fewest net rushing yards in a game is minus-58 in a 19-7 loss at Navy on Nov. 6, 1965. Saturday’s outing set a mark for the fewest rushing yards in a game against a conference opponent, smashing the previous record of minus-34 in a 46-21 loss at Virginia on Nov. 12, 1994.
“Give Penn State credit. They’re a top-10 team, and they came in here and kicked our butts, and we got outplayed and outcoached,” coach Mike Locksley said. “We didn’t make plays in any of the three phases that we’re going to need to make consistently. With that being said, we’re still sitting here on five wins with an opportunity to get to six.”
Without any semblance of a ground game, the Terps were forced to rely on redshirt senior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who completed 29 of 39 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns.
The Alabama transfer completed his first 17 throws to open the game, matching the best start to a game this season set by South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler in a 37-30 win against Mississippi State on Sept. 23.
But the offense’s overreliance on Tagovailoa opened the door for the Nittany Lions to turn up their pass rush, which resulted in six sacks, two interceptions and one strip-sack that Penn State recovered.
“We just couldn’t get it together today,” said junior wide receiver Tai Felton, who led the team with 75 receiving yards on four catches but lost a crucial fumble midway through the first quarter. “Just one of those things where we were up and down today, and we had some turnovers. I had a turnover, and that was my fault. It just is what it is, and we’ve got to keep going and move on from our mistakes so that this doesn’t happen again.”
Tagovailoa’s effort wasn’t enough to prevent Maryland from sliding to 5-4 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten and dropping its fourth game in a row. The program has lost its past 30 games against top-15 opponents and is 2-15 at home in November since joining the conference in 2014. The only two wins during that span came against Rutgers on Nov. 26, 2016, and Nov. 27, 2022.
November has been similarly unkind to the Terps during fifth-year coach Mike Locksley’s tenure. Since 2019, they are 3-12 in the month with victories occurring against Rutgers last year and on Nov. 27, 2021, and at the Nittany Lions on Nov. 7, 2020.
Maryland is still one win away from becoming bowl-eligible for the third consecutive season. The team has been sitting on that possibility since the losing streak began Oct. 7 at Ohio State, which is No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings, and continued with setbacks to Illinois and Northwestern.
“It’s not going to be an easy task,” said Locksley, whose team travels to Nebraska (5-4, 3-3) next Saturday. “We’ve got to rally the troops and we’ve got to remain really close-knit as a team and understand that the only people that can fix it are us. We can’t look for opponents to give us anything, we can’t look for help from outside. We’ve got to just make the decision that we’re going to keep going to work, we’re going to keep showing up.
“We’ll go to Lincoln and put together a good plan and figure out a way to get [win] No. 6 on the road.”
The Terps look like a shell of their former selves that opened the season with five straight victories. The offense has scored fewer points (20.8 per game during the skid vs. 38.6 in the first five), lost traction in the running game (66.8 yards vs. 157.4) and committed more turnovers (a total of nine vs. three). And the defense has given up more points (37.0 per game vs. 13.2), allowed more passing yards (259.3 vs. 211.8) and failed to cause turnovers (one vs. 12).
Maryland’s issues became obvious from the outset Saturday. On the offense’s first possession, the unit couldn’t convert a fourth-and-1 from its own 45-yard line, losing a yard when the Nittany Lions snuffed out Tagovailoa’s screen pass to redshirt junior tight end Corey Dyches.
Penn State capitalized with an eight-play, 44-yard march capped by a 6-yard scoring strike from Allar to redshirt senior wide receiver Dante Cephas. His catch in the back right corner of the end zone was initially ruled incomplete, but an official review overturned that ruling and awarded the Nittany Lions the touchdown.
The Terps responded with a promising drive to Penn State’s 32. But after catching a pass from Tagovailoa for a 9-yard gain, junior wide receiver Tai Felton was stripped by redshirt senior defensive end Adisa Isaac, and sophomore defensive tackle Zane Durant recovered the fumble and returned it 14 yards to the 37.
The Nittany Lions were forced into a three-and-out on the ensuing series, but rebounded on their next possession. They went 79 yards in eight plays and used a little trickery to punch the ball into the end zone.
On third-and-goal at Maryland’s 2, backup redshirt freshman quarterback Beau Pribula replaced Allar to take the shotgun snap. Pribula then flipped the ball to Allar coming in from the left side of the line, and the latter shoveled the ball to junior tight end Theo Johnson to give Penn State a 14-0 advantage with two seconds left in the first quarter.
The Terps cut the deficit in half with a drive that consumed half of the second quarter and was aided by a roughing the kicker penalty on an attempted blocked punt by Nittany Lions redshirt sophomore Liam Clifford on fourth-and-21 at Maryland’s 46. On first-and-goal at Penn State’s 7, Tagovailoa bought some time by scrambling out of the pocket and hitting redshirt sophomore running back Roman Hemby (John Carroll) for a 7-yard touchdown.
At that point, Tagovailoa had completed his first 17 passes. His previous best start was 11 consecutive completions in a 43-30 loss to Ohio State on Nov. 19, 2022. His overall longest run in a game was 16 in a 56-21 romp at Charlotte on Sept. 10, 2022.
But Tagovailoa’s very next pass on the Terps’ next offensive series ended his streak.
The Nittany Lions regained their two-touchdown lead by marching 75 yards in 12 plays. That possession resulted in Allar connecting with junior tight end Tyler Warren for an 8-yard score with less than three minutes left before halftime.
Penn State added to its advantage in the second half. Senior kicker Alex Felkins converted a 30-yard field goal midway through the third quarter, and Allar dropped a 15-yard pass to Cephas in the back left corner of the end zone just five seconds into the fourth.
Maryland ended a scoring drought of 26:32 when graduate student wide receiver Jeshaun Jones caught a 1-yard dart from Tagovailoa for the touchdown. The ensuing 2-point conversion failed, but a pass interference penalty on Nittany Lions senior cornerback Johnny Dixon gave the Terps another chance, which they converted when redshirt sophomore running back Antwain Littleton II punched the ball in to make the score 31-15.
However, Penn State sophomore running back Nicholas Singleton returned the ensuing kickoff 51 yards. Five plays later, sophomore running back Kaytron Allen pushed his way 10 yards into the end zone.
The Nittany Lions added a pair of field goals by Felkins from 35 and 39 yards and a 6-yard touchdown run by Pribula after an interception and a fumble from Tagovailoa and another pick by Edwards to complete the scoring.
Penn State improved to 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the Big Ten. Since that 35-19 setback to Maryland three years ago, the school has won the past three meetings by a combined score of 112-29.
Allar connected on 25 of 34 passes for 240 yards and four touchdowns and carried the ball four times for 39 yards. Junior wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith caught eight balls for 95 yards, and Cephas had six receptions for 53 yards and two touchdowns. Allen ran 14 times for 91 yards and one score.
Maryland at Nebraska
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