Winning cures everything, right? Maryland played three horrible quarters of offensive football, then came to life and shocked Happy Valley with the sweetest of victories, a 20-19 conquest to open a new era of Maryland-Penn State battles.
The Terps got a Brad Craddock field goal with 56 seconds to play, then stopped Penn State's last-ditch effort to score the best win of the Randy Edsall era.
It was a great day for Maryland, but it wasn't without warts.
Maryland's now-weekly bad start began this time before the opening kickoff even happened. At the coin flip, the two teams scrummed a little when P.J. Gallo, Sean Davis and Stefon Diggs refused to shake hands. Diggs then inadvertently got a hand in the official's face, sending the Terps back 15 yards. Penn State started with good field position, marched down the field, and cashed in with a 47-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. Those 15 yards were the difference between a 3-0 deficit and a PSU punt, so it was a silly and counterproductive penalty -- a tad classless too, for my taste. Something wrong with a pregame handshake?
Penn State, though, refused to take the high road it had been gifted and committed two equally stupid 15-yard penalties that not only extended Maryland's first drive after it had died, but it also moved the Terps 30 yards downfield. Maryland couldn't convert it into points though, as none of C.J. Brown's three short passes turned into anything. Two were really poorly thrown, and the third was bobbled by Brandon Ross in the backfield. It was two screens and a dump -- should be automatic receptions but not this year, unfortunately -- and the Terps punted it away.
At the end of the ensuing Penn State drive, Will Likely gave Maryland its first highlight when he picked off a really poorly thrown Christian Hackenberg bomb. Maryland took over at its own 15, but went three-and-out. CJB's numbers through 2 drives: 2-for-6 for negative-2 yards with three wildly errant passes, a drop, and a bobbled reception for a loss. Ack.
Maryland's defense began finding its footing against Penn State's makeshift OL, which lost should-be-Terp left tackle Donovan Smith to a gametime scratch. Keith Bowers got nice penatration to sack Hackenberg to end the following drive, which also included a hurry. Andre Monroe had an early sack too, as the DL continued to quietly have a solid year. Penn State chunked a 23-yard punt, and the Terps had great field position for the first time and marched into the red zone on the first play of the second quarter.
Penn State's third awful 15-yard penalty of the game -- and the second by Marcus Allen -- put Maryland near the goal line and C.J. Brown picked a nice time to throw his first meaningful connection of the day. After some well-sold play action. Brown found wide open P.J. Gallo in the back of the end zone for a 7-3 lead.
Maryland got stung by poor officiating during Penn State's next scoring drive, midway though the second quarter. The Nittany Lions got an extremely fortuitous assist from the zebras, who called a flat-out awful roughing-the-passer penalty on Yannick Ngakoue on the very same play that the other Yannik -- Cudjoe Virgil -- showed fantastic hands in snatching a Hackenberg pass out of the air, then returned it about 40 yards for a pick-6 that was negated. Instead, Penn State got a chip-shot field goal and it was 7-6, not 14-3. Pretty big swing there.
Penn State grabbed a lead on its next drive, aided by an extremely questionable Randy Edsall decision to decline a third-down holding penalty on an incomplete pass with PSU looking at a 46-yard field goal attempt. Rather than accept the penalty and push PSU back to third-and-really-long outside of field goal range, he declined and allowed Sam Ficken to boot it through for a 9-7 Nittany Lion lead.
The two teams exchanged fumble recoveries in the final two minutes of the half, but neither could take advantage, so we went to the break with the home team leading by two.
What was an ugly first half carried on after the intermission, as Maryland's defense was every bit as good as its offense was bad. Or Maybe Penn State's offense was as bad as Maryland's offense was bad. Or, most likely, both were true. Regardless, neither team could mount much of anything as the third quarter progressed. CJB actually did fire a couple of crisp passes that were dropped by Leak and Diggs. Lots of drops today by the receivers, unfortunately.
Wes Brown got his first real look midway through the the third and had a couple nice rushes before fumbling it away. Penn State made Maryland pay for its mistake this time and drove about 50 yards with Hackenberg punctuating with a TD pass to Jesse James for a two-possession lead, 16-7.
Maryland answered with its best drive of the game. C.J. Brown woke up and fired some nice passes and got Diggs involved -- he caught four for 40 yards. But it stalled at the goal line on what this writer would label as a dubious play call. With a southpaw QB on the right hash, Maryland tried to run an option to the short side. PSU got quick penetration to force the pitch to Brown, who bobbled it and was downed in the backfield. Butt-ugly, all of it, but Brad "MVP" Craddock hit the chip shot to make it a one-possession game, 16-10.
Then the Terps caught a huge break when Jermaine Carter Jr. forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and Alex Twine recovered. Maryland took it to the goal line again on a great Diggs play, then Wes Brown powered it in for a 17-16 lead. Forget all that stuff I said about the offense earlier. I love 'em!
Maryland's lead was short-lived, as Hackenberg connected on a bomb to sustain a drive just long enough for Ficken to boot a 48-yard FG that swung the lead back to the hosts, 19-17, entering crunch time. Could Maryland answer?
Not right away. The Terps sputtered on their next drive, taking two big negative plays on a poor Brandon Ross decision to run backwards away from contact, then a poor CJB decision when he flinched under pressure and took an unnecessary third-down sack with Diggs open underneath.
That allowed Penn State to run about 2 minutes off the clock before punting, and Maryland's offense prepared to take over with just more than 2 minutes to go and one timeout remaining.
Will Likely got the Terps off to a good start with a nice punt return that advanced the ball to the PSU 42, where the drive started. CJB then executive a nice rollout screen to Wes Brown, who rumbled into field goal range on a nice gain.
In came Craddock for a 42-yarder with 56 seconds to go .... and ... it's good! He's the best, right? And it was an absolute bomb too.
Penn State got its last shot with 46 seconds remaining and a pair of timeouts. Penn State got nowhere, Hackenberg fumbled away 4th-and-short, and the Terps won!
Four things we learned
1. Great win, but Maryland is anemic on offense right now. The book on Maryland is they can't pass the ball, and defensive coordinators are acting accordingly by selling out to stop the run. At halftime, the Terps had pathetic averages of 4 yards per catch (that's if the pass is anywhere near the receiver, which it often wasn't) and 2.7 yards per rush. Maryland had more penalty yards (72) than actual yards (66) and C.J. Brown was every bit as ineffective as he was in Madison last week. Deep balls continued to be grossly off-target and short passes -- even screens & slants and quick outs -- seemed to have about a 50-percent chance of being catchable. It didn't help CJB that his receivers had a bad case of both the bobbles and the drops, so he was not alone in his struggles this time. The only way for Maryland to halt its offensive woes is to start converting through the air, because no defensive coordinator in his right mind is going to let the Terps run right now.
2. Randy Edsall needs to make all his 4th down decisions really quickly, so he'll have plenty of time to do the exact opposite of whatever he decided. Today's decision to decline a holding call in the second quarter and allow PSU to kick a field goal for a 9-7 lead was just as horrendous as last week's decision to go for it on 4th and forever in Wisconsin territory when either kicking (with a world-class kicker) or punting were both far better options. Some of these are crucial, game-deciding decisions (BC says hi) and Edsall just isn't getting them right. Luckily, Maryland overcame it and those three points didn't matter.
3. Great day for the D. Penn State's offense looked, um, a little Marylandish. But let's not overlook the Terp defense and its role in PSU's struggles. Maryland's defensive front got great penetration and a bunch of sacks and hurries, and many of those were due to great coverage by a depleted secondary that saw Sean Davis play at corner and Zach Dancel move into a very prominent role. Early in the fourth quarter, Hackenberg had a hideous stat line of 16-for-36 for 135 yards. That's really bad, and the defense made it happen. Up front, Yannick Ngakoue is quickly turning into a star, while Andre Monroe only solidified his status as one of the best DEs in the conference. Just a lot to be happy about on that side of the ball.
4. Like it or not, Penn State fans, this is officially a rivalry. All the ingredients were on display. Things were chippy before the game began and remained chippy throughout. Penn State's roster is loaded with DMV guys and Maryland has a dozen or more Pennsylvanians. Both teams played with too much emotion, which led to some hot heads and silly penalties. Penn State's coach used to be Maryland's coach-in-waiting and Maryland's coach is from Pennsylvania. There's just too much at stake here. This was not just another game and it's not going to be next year or any other year either. So listen up, Penn State: Don't worry about Ohio State, Michigan State or anyone else you'd like to compare yourself to ... Worry about Maryland. You may lead the series 35-2-1, but we lead the new-era B1G series 1-0. See you next year at M&T Bank.