State College, Pa. — Maryland interim coach and offensive coordinator Matt Canada said immediately after last week’s wild overtime shootout loss to No. 10 Ohio State that the Terps would have no trouble getting ready to play No. 12 Penn State at Beaver Stadium.
Unfortunately for the Terps, it didn’t appear that way on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Happy Valley.
Led by fifth-year senior quarterback Trace McSorley, the Nittany Lions handed Maryland its fourth straight defeat to close the season, 38-3. McSorley scored on two first-quarter touchdown runs and threw for one more early in the fourth quarter.
While congratulating Penn State, Canada talked about the physical toll the season had taken on the Terps, who went into the game without several regulars and then lost leading rusher Anthony McFarland Jr. with an undisclosed injury early in the second half.
“We obviously left some plays on the field today. We had a lot of guys get hurt,” Canada said. “As we always talk about how special our players are, guys kept stepping up and stepping in. We weren’t able to make the plays we needed today.
“I’m disappointed in that for our players. It’s hard to watch that, to see that happen when you know how bad they wanted it, obviously how bad they wanted it for our seniors, but really for everybody. I’m not going to list them all, how many guys came in that were hurt and were hurt throughout the game. The kids kept playing hard.”
For one of the first times this season, Canada got choked up as he spoke.
“So proud of our football team,” he said. “Really, really proud of our team and our entire building. I say it a lot. Our equipment staff and our managers, how hard they work to pick all the slack up this [year]. Our medical staff, our trainers. Our weight room staff, our nutrition staff and everyone that cooks the food for us. Our academic staff.
“I love our players and they deserve all the credit. But everybody in our building did a great job and it stinks that we didn’t win today and it really stinks the last two games [before] we came up three points short. But this is one helluva season, one helluva group of kids, and as a staff we’re really proud of them.”
Maryland (5-7, 3-6 Big Ten) had nothing left in an emotional tank that had been slowly drained over the past six months — since the day offensive lineman Jordan McNair (McDonogh) suffered heatstroke at a May 29 conditioning test and died June 13.
The resilience of the Terps had been tested many times since the season began.
It started with a tearful celebration after beating then-No. 23 Texas at FedEx Field on Sept. 1 — with junior offensive lineman Ellis McKennie, a fellow McDonogh grad, waving a banner with McNair’s No. 79 adorning it.
It included two external reviews, the first looking into the circumstances that led to McNair’s death and the other into media allegations of a “toxic” football culture under DJ Durkin.
It reached something of an emotional climax with the tumultuous 36-hour period late last month when the third-year coach was reinstated by the University System of Maryland’s Board Regents on Oct. 30, then fired the following day by university president Wallace Loh.
‘’This season was filled with adversity, and battling through adversity,” senior defensive tackle Mbi Tanyi said. “That’s like the biggest thing we can all take from this season. We lost our teammate and to keep battling through game in and game out, I can’t say how proud I am of everybody who put effort in.”
Said graduate receiver Taivon Jacobs, who wound up spending six years at Maryland: “Just sticking together, just working through everything we’ve been through and staying as one. Unfortunately we came up short with some things and some things we wish we could get back. Just got to keep moving forward.”
Before an uncharacteristically sparse crowd on senior day in State College — the crowd was announced at 98,422, but appeared to be much smaller — Maryland’s fourth straight losing season ended with an all-too-familiar result: another defeat to the Nittany Lions, who are now 39-2-1 in this one-sided rivalry.
The defeat prevented the Terps from becoming bowl-eligible after being on the brink of it with a 63-33 win over Illinois on Oct. 27. Maryland then lost four straight to Michigan State (24-3), Indiana (34-32), Ohio State (52-51) and Penn State.
Asked what it was like to fall one win shy of their goal, Tanyi said, “Just more adversity. Just got to keep battling through it. To come up short is disappointing, but each week we’ve got to show up to play. This is how it is, college football.”
After gaining support in recent weeks despite the losses — especially for trying to win with a 2-point conversion in overtime against the Buckeyes last Saturday — the 46-year-old Canada might have coached his last game for the Terps.
Hoping to keep whatever spotlight is left on his players, Canada declined to discuss his future.
“We’ve taken it day to day. That’s what we’re going to do,” Canada said. “We’ll get it up tomorrow, see what happens. That’s not the story.”
The victory for Penn State (9-3, 6-3) closed out McSorley’s career with yet another record — this one for completing his 694th pass, most in school history — but also might have been the last home appearance for coach James Franklin, who is rumored to be a candidate for Southern California head coach.
After rushing for 298 yards in last week’s overtime loss to the Buckeyes at Maryland Stadium — the second most in program history — McFarland was held to 12 yards on six carries. The redshirt freshman didn’t get a carry in the second half after appearing to reinjure the shoulder he hurt last week.
A year after losing 66-3 to the Nittany Lions in the regular-season finale in College Park, things didn’t work out for the Terps from the start.
As happened often this season, the Terps won the coin toss. But instead of putting their offense on the field as they almost always had done, they sent out their defense. It took just four plays for Penn State to take a lead it would never lose on a 3-yard touchdown run by McSorley, who added a 20-yard touchdown run later in the first quarter.
“It was a setback, and we just had to respond and we didn’t respond how we wanted to,” Jacobs said.
By halftime, the Terps trailed 17-3 and things quickly deteriorated in the second half, with graduate linebacker Tre Watson, the Big Ten’s leading tackler, getting ejected for the third time this season for targeting. An offense that accounted for 535 yards against Ohio State had just 259 on Saturday, including 74 on the ground.
Asked how he would like this year’s team to be remembered, Canada said, “Just as a group of kids that stuck together, that had to deal with things that nobody should deal with. How they matured, how they responded to adversity — all the things that came out. The timing of all the things that happened and every day they went back to work.
“That really should be the only story. The game, this is our livelihood, our profession and we have to win. What these guys did, they played hard every game. Anybody that wants to question that’s wrong. And that’s not always the case. They had every excuse in the book not to play hard.”
Canada singled out his seniors, including safety Darnell Savage Jr., who was playing “basically on one leg” and others who could have moved on to the next phase of their football lives but wanted to play in one more game.
“How many seniors stayed out there until the last whistle today?” Canada said. “You look across the country and as soon as things start happening and adversity hits, seniors start tapping out and get ready for the draft.
“Nobody did that on our team. Guys are dying to play because they wanted to play for each other. It’s an unbelievable group of kids. Unbelievable. … I’m still happy at how hard our kids wanted to play.”