“Disappointed in our effort. Disappointed in the discipline we played with tonight,” first-year Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. "We were outcoached.
All the hype and hope that began with two one-sided victories and its first national ranking in six years began to dissipate for the Maryland football team nearly two weeks ago with a disheartening three-point road loss to Temple.
On Friday night, before the first sellout crowd at Maryland in four seasons, the Terps saw their “Blackout” game against No. 12 Penn State quickly become a blowout — for the Nittany Lions, who scored on six of their first seven possessions, including the first four, and cruised to another easy victory, 59-0 before an announced 53,228.
The victory was the fifth straight for Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) in the series since Maryland (2-2, 0-1) beat the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley in its first year in the Big Ten in 2014, with the past three wins coming by a combined 163-6. Penn State leads the series 40-2-1.
“Disappointed in our effort. Disappointed in the discipline we played with tonight,” first-year Maryland coach Mike Locksley said. "We were outcoached. We were outplayed. That’s on me as the head coach and the leader of this football family to have our guys prepared to go out and play the type of game we need to play.
“Our fans came out and created a hell of an environment for us today and we went out and didn’t do our job as a team. It’s disappointing, but as I said last week, we’re not going to overreact to one game. Give credit to Penn State. They were well-prepared. They played at a high level.”
It was the largest margin of defeat for Maryland since a 66-3 loss at home to No. 10 Penn State to end the 2017 season. With the defeat, the Terps haven’t scored a touchdown against the Nittany Lions since then-freshman quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome’s 7-yard run in the second quarter of a 38-14 road loss in 2016, a stretch of 14 quarters.
It was also the worst shutout defeat for Maryland since a 63-0 loss at No. 8 Florida State in 2013, the last time before this season that the Terps were ranked. Locksley was the team’s offensive coordinator then, and has said since hiring Scottie Montgomery as his offensive coordinator that the former East Carolina coach would be calling plays.
“For us, we’ve got to figure out what we need to do on the offensive side of the ball. That’s my side of the ball,” Locksley said. “That’s the expertise that I bring. We’ve got to figure out what our quarterback is capable of getting executing. We’ve got to make sure our best players are touching the football.”
Another tough night for Jackson
Graduate transfer quarterback Josh Jackson, coming off what was statistically one of the worst performances of his college career, which was called an “outlier” by Locksley, struggled even worse against the Nittany Lions. Jackson finished 10 of 21 for a career-low 65 yards and two interceptions. He was also sacked four times.
“It starts with the quarterback,” Locksley said. “This offense is quarterback-driven. Again, to comment on how Josh played, other than I was disappointed in the turnovers, we’ve got to protect Josh."
Jackson, who had seven touchdowns and just one interception in wins over Howard and then-No. 21 Syracuse, was picked off twice in his first eight throws, the first leading to an 8-yard touchdown run by counterpart Sean Clifford and the second near the Penn State goal line, leading to a 95-yard touchdown drive by the Nittany Lions.
On Jackson’s first interception, it appeared he was looking at sophomore wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr., who was streaking across the middle of the field on a post route wide open. Jackson threw a bullet that was picked off by linebacker Jan Johnson, who was tackled out of bounds by Jackson to set up Clifford’s first touchdown.
Asked if he thought his team felt the game was lost after Jackson’s second interception, which led to the Terps falling behind 21-0, Locksley said: “I hope not. Obviously, I think the air came out of us. We put together a good drive and it was not a great decision, to throw the interception down there in the red zone. We wanted to at least come away with some points in there. I don’t think we gave up. Our defense continued to play.”
Locksley made it clear that Jackson, who was a breakout star as a redshirt freshman at Virginia Tech two years ago before suffering a fractured leg in the third game of last season, will remain the team’s starter going into next Saturday’s game at Rutgers. Locksley replaced Jackson with Pigrome briefly in the second quarter and for good in the fourth quarter.
“We’re committed to Josh," Locksley said. “He’s our quarterback, but just like any position, we evaluate the position, we all have to do our job. Josh is our quarterback, but we also feel like that if a guy isn’t productive, we’ve got to figure out a way to get productive players on the field. Josh is our quarterback.
“I’ve got to do a better job of getting him playing back with the confidence that he played with earlier. It’s easy just to poke the fingers at the quarterback and that happens a lot. But for us, up front the protection, the running backs hitting their landmarks, the receivers on the perimeter blocking. It’s all of us. It’s not just the quarterback.”
For the first time this season, Jackson was not made available to the media after the game.
Redshirt senior guard Ellis McKennie (McDonogh) declined to speculate on how difficult it has been for Jackson the past two games, given the breakdowns on the offensive line, which lost junior right tackle Marcus Minor in the second quarter with a dislocated toe a week after senior guard Terrance Davis sprained his knee against Temple.
“I can’t comment on the quarterback position, but this was definitely a team loss that we had today,” McKennie said. “We weren’t firing on any cylinders on any of three teams. We need to work together and play better complementary football in all three phases.”
Big night for Clifford
Clifford, who won the starting job after Trace McSorley, now a rookie with the Baltimore Ravens, graduated and Tommy Stevens transferred to Mississippi State in late May, had a McSorley-like performance against the Terps. He completed his first nine passes (for 166 yards and two touchdowns) before being intercepted on the 10th by Maryland freshman safety Nick Cross.
Clifford finished 26 of 31 for 398 yards and three touchdowns, including a school-record 287 yards in the first half in leading the Nittany Lions to a 38-0 lead.
“I thought Sean was on fire," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "Really handled being on the road for the first time in a Big Ten environment.”
Said Clifford, in reference to the Nittany Lions fans: "When you white out a black out like that, that’s awesome.”
Injuries pile up
Aside from losing Davis with a sprained knee and redshirt junior running back Jake Funk with a torn ACL against Temple, Minor, redshirt junior running Lorenzo Harrison III and senior cornerback Marcus Lewis went out with injuries Friday. Maryland also saw redshirt junior safety Deon Jones get ejected for a targeting penalty in the second quarter.
The Terps also went into the game without senior wide receiver and punt returner DJ Turner, who had a 40-yard punt return for a touchdown against Howard and a 55-yard punt return against Temple. According to Locksley, Turner sat out to focus on “non-football issues” but wouldn’t specify what the problem was.
As a freshman, Turner was suspended for the last four games with Harrison after being charged by campus police after an incident in which they allegedly fired Airsoft guns at passersby. Charges of reckless endangerment, second-degree assault and threatening bodily harm to a student on school property were dropped for a lack of evidence.