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Four takeaways from Maryland football’s 35-19 win against Penn State

The Maryland football team’s 35-19 win at Penn State on Saturday was historic in a variety of ways.

The 35 points were the most the Terps (2-1) had scored against the Nittany Lions in a series that dates to 1917 and were 15 points more than they had scored in their previous four meetings combined. The 16-point difference was also the program’s largest margin of victory in the series.

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The win was Maryland’s first against Penn State since Nov. 1, 2014, and only its third in the 44-game history. Coach Mike Locksley opened his postgame conference citing several former players who had fallen short in previous bids to upset the Nittany Lions, and even for someone as new to the Big Ten rivalry as sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, the significance of Saturday’s victory was not lost.

“I heard Maryland hasn’t beaten them in a long time,” he said. “Coming here and beating them at their place, it’s a blessing. Our team looks forward to opportunities. We like to compete. Hopefully, we can continue to build off of this.”

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Here are some takeaways from Maryland’s victory.

The beleaguered defense played like it was in a league of its own.

A unit that had entered Saturday’s game ranked last in the Big Ten against the run and in sacks and second-to-last in total defense made a 180-degree turn against Penn State (0-3).

After surrendering 600 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground in games against Northwestern and Minnesota, the Terps gave up only 94 yards and zero scores Saturday. A pass rush that generated only one sack by junior middle linebacker Chance Campbell (Calvert Hall) got to Nittany Lions redshirt junior quarterback Sean Clifford seven times, including two sacks each by sophomore defensive tackle Mosiah Nasili-Kite and freshman inside linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II.

And after getting zero turnovers in the first two games, the defense got interceptions from junior cornerback Kenny Bennett and sophomore safety Nick Cross. Cross also strip-sacked Clifford, and Campbell picked up the fumble and returned it 34 yards for a 35-7 advantage early in the third quarter.

Locksley said the defensive strategy was to force Clifford to beat the defense through the air, and Cross credited a staff headed by defensive coordinator Jon Hoke with motivating the unit.

“I think it was just an emphasis all week with Coach Locks and Coach Hoke and all the defensive coaches and all the coaches in general,” said Cross, who finished with a team-high eight tackles. “We just focused on having a sense of urgency, a mindset. We got in and watched the film from last week and knew that there were a lot of things we could clean up. When we all play together and play fast and physical, we’ll be a very good defense. It was just one of those things where we harped on running to the ball and making sure that we knew our assignments, and at the end of the day, we played extremely hard and had fun out there.”

The defense was inspired by tragedy.

The unit enjoyed its best performance of the young season, but without defensive end Lawtez Rogers.

The sophomore returned to his family’s home in Landover after receiving a call at the team hotel Saturday morning informing him of the death of his mother Pamela Allen. Locksley got choked up while discussing Rogers' absence.

“He and his mom were really close,” Locksley said. “I hate that for anybody in our program. He’s hurting, and we’re hurting with him, and I know that definitely helped elevate the emotions that our defense played with because they wanted to honor their brother by playing with a great effort. So our hearts are with Tez and his family as they deal with the tragedy of losing his mom.”

Teammates like sophomore punter Anthony Pecorella and Tagovailoa dedicated the win to Rogers.

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Added Tagovailoa: “That was for our brother Lawtez. It’s super tough losing a loved one like that. We talked before the game, and Coach told us that this was for our brother. We just continue to pray for him.”

Freshman Rakim Jarrett stepped into the spotlight.

In a wide receiver group headlined by junior Dontay Demus Jr. and redshirt sophomore Jeshaun Jones, Jarrett demonstrated why he was a five-star recruit and the No. 2 wide receiver in the country as a senior at St. John’s College in Washington.

Jarrett staked Maryland to a 7-0 lead when he ran a slant under Demus drawing attention on a deep corner, caught a pass over the middle and raced to the front left corner of the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown with 12:27 left in the first quarter. Later in the quarter, he and Demus pulled off a similar ploy, and Jarrett took a pass from Tagovailoa 62 yards to extend the team’s advantage to 14-0 with 19 seconds remaining.

Jarrett, who caught five balls for 144 yards and the two scores, became the first true freshman wide receiver to produce 100 yards and two touchdowns since current Buffalo Bills receiver Stefon Diggs against West Virginia on Sept. 22, 2012. And his 144 yards are the second highest by any true freshman, trailing only Diggs' 152 yards against Boston College on Oct. 27, 2012.

Locksley relayed an exchange he had with Jarrett before the game.

“It was funny because I actually sent him a text message as we were leaving the hotel, challenging him, like, ‘Hey, we brought you here to make plays, and what a great day and a great opportunity to do it here today,’” Locksley said. “And he came through and really made some big-time plays for us for us early on to ignite us on the offensive side of the ball, and that’s great to see from him.”

The finish left something to be desired.

The Terps outscored Penn State 28-7 in the first half, but were outscored 12-7 in the second half.

The offense was especially dismal in the final two quarters. In the third quarter, the unit collected 26 yards on 10 plays and then 29 yards on 12 plays in the fourth. The offense also failed the convert the interceptions by Jarrett and Cross into points and had two offensive series hampered by presnap penalties.

Locksley said he called the offense together at the beginning of the fourth quarter to get the players on the same page, but was disappointed with the results.

“I thought the defense did a better job of finishing than we did on the offensive side, and I don’t think we’re one of those teams that is mature enough yet to sit on the ball and use the clock and get us out of a rhythm,” he said. “We’re an offense that operates better when we have rhythm. We had a couple of drops there that I think would have kept us on the field. Somehow, we got a yard short on third down. We had a couple penalties. Those things are the things that disappoint you, but it goes back to how we’ve got a young team that has got to learn how to finish on the field and operate the offense no matter what type of tempo we go into.”

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