“Disappointed in our effort. Disappointed in the discipline we played with tonight,” first-year Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. "We were outcoached.
From new concerns about an old problem (poor quarterback play) to injuries on the offensive line to how a team recovers from its worst shutout defeat in six years, here are three takeaways from Maryland’s 59-0 loss Friday to No. 12 Penn State.
1. For a quarterback who made his reputation on reading defenses, Josh Jackson has struggled badly the past two weeks.
Just when you thought the Terps had finally found an answer at a position that has been lacking for most of the past two decades, the play of graduate transfer Josh Jackson is starting to look like so much of what we’ve seen from Maryland quarterbacks in recent years.
Jackson’s performance against Temple included an interception on his first series and two overthrows for what would have likely been the winning touchdown on his last. That apparently gave the Nittany Lions the roadmap they needed to make Jackson run for his football life.
When Jackson was dominating in Maryland’s first two games, throwing for seven touchdowns and only one interception against Howard and then-No. 21 Syracuse, first-year coach Mike Locksley praised the quarterback for his ability to make great decisions in both his pre- and post-snap reads.
As happened two weeks before, Jackson was picked off on Maryland’s first series Friday. He apparently didn’t see linebacker Jan Johnson sliding back toward the intended target, sophomore wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr., who looked wide open in the middle of the field.
Johnson’s interception return, as well as two Maryland penalties on the play including Jackson for unsportsmanlike after tackling Johnson when he was out of bounds, set up Penn State’s first touchdown. With Maryland trailing, 14-0, Jackson underthrew tight end Tyler Mabry in the end zone and was intercepted by cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields, leading to a 10-play, 95-yard touchdown drive.
Jackson’s performance the past two games is reminiscent of what happened to Kasim Hill last season.
After completing 17 of 29 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown in a season-opening upset of then-No. 23 Texas at FedEx Field, Hill struggled with his reads and his accuracy for all but a couple of games. He then suffered a torn ACL for the second straight year in a late-season loss at Indiana.
As it did with interim coach Matt Canada last season, it is putting Locksley in the position of defending his decision to keep Jackson as his starter rather than going with redshirt junior Tyrrell Pigrome, who after supposedly putting up a stiff challenge for the starting job in preseason camp has stayed mostly on the bench the past two weeks as Jackson struggled.
Asked about Jackson looking like he’s lost confidence, Locksley said, “It’s my job. I’ve got to make sure that guy has the confidence in what we’re calling so we can get it executed. It just comes from not executing. When you call plays and they aren’t being executed, that creates a little doubt.”
2. The lack of a running game also shows what a mess the offensive line is right now.
As Locksley said after the game, it’s easy to put much of the blame on Jackson, whose two interceptions on his first eight pass attempts left the Terps in an early 21-0 hole that grew to 38-0 by halftime. Jackson finished the game completing just 10 of 21 passes for a career-low 65 yards. He was sacked four times, the same number he was taken down behind the line by Temple.
But unlike the Temple game, the team’s once vaunted running attack was stopped from the start. Maryland was held to just 60 yards on 34 carries. Redshirt sophomore Anthony McFarland Jr., who rushed 26 times for 132 yards against the Owls, had only 24 yards on nine carries against Penn State.
The offensive line, which lost three longtime starters to graduation after last season when the Terps finished third in the Big Ten in rushing (230.2 yards per game), has now lost two of its most experienced players in right guard Terrance Davis (sprained knee against Temple) and right tackle Marcus Minor (dislocated toe against Penn State).
Not only has it left Jackson being protected on his blind side by redshirt freshman Jaelyn Duncan, who also was injured Friday before returning, he now has another redshirt freshman, Austin Fontaine, at right tackle. Fontaine had been a defensive lineman until the spring.
Fifth-year senior Ellis McKennie (McDonogh), who replaced Davis in the starting lineup against Penn State, was asked Friday how difficult it is to get a consistent effort on the line given its lack of experience at tackle. McKennie was the only offensive player made available to the media after the game.
“We do have a few inexperienced guys, guys moving around, but with the way we practice and the amount of reps we get, when you go in you’re expected to execute,” McKennie said. “There’s no excuses for it. We’re going to work on it, we’re going to get better, especially on the O-line. I promise that.”
If there was any good news out of the team’s most one-sided shutout loss since the No. 25 and then-newly-ranked Terps were blown out by then-No. 8 Florida State, 63-0, in 2013, it’s that Maryland’s next game will be at Big Ten East bottom-feeder Rutgers next Saturday.
Not that beating the Scarlet Knights will be easy.
In their first five games playing Rutgers as conference opponents, Maryland has won three, including when Locksley finished out the 2015 season after Randy Edsall was fired. After five straight losses as interim coach, starting with a 31-30 defeat to Penn State, Locksley got his only win, 46-41, at Rutgers in the season finale.
“We have the 24-hour rule, and that’s, ‘Win or lose, it takes 24 hours.’ We’ve got to get it, digest it out of our system,” Locksley said Friday. “As a coaching staff, we’ve got to get on top of the tape and figure out what went wrong, obviously, when you look at the stat sheet.”
Asked how difficult it could be for the Marlyland players to put such a one-sided loss behind them while preparing for the next opponent, McKennie said, “The key to getting past a game like this is when we have big wins is treating it the same way. We have 24 hours to get through the game, watch the film, put it to bed and get ready for the next team.”
When pressed, McKennie said recovering from a big loss is harder than coming down from a big win.
“Of course, it’s always difficult coming off a loss,” McKennie said. “We have to refocus and reset and get ready for Rutgers next week.”
The Terps, who lost their last road game against the Scarlet Knights in 2017, are headed into a four-game stretch that will likely determine if they have a shot at becoming bowl eligible in Locksley’s first season. After Rutgers, Maryland plays at Purdue on Oct. 12., comes home to face Indiana on Oct. 19 and goes to Minnesota on Oct. 26.
The Terps are a combined 8-6 against the four teams since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
After that, Locksley’s team will face its annual end-of-season gantlet starting with No. 20 Michigan playing homecoming at Maryland Stadium on Nov. 2, No. 5 Ohio State in Columbus on Nov. 9. After a bye week, the Terps face two perennial powers that have been up and down this season, Nebraska at home Nov. 23 and No. 25 Michigan State Nov. 30 in East Lansing.
The Terps are a combined 2-14 against those four teams in conference play.