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Three takeaways from Maryland football’s loss to No. 22 Penn State

Maryland’s defense fell apart late in the loss.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland football was back in College Park for its penultimate home game of the season. Both the Terps and the Nittany Lions were searching for win No. 6 and Penn State emerged victorious, qualifying for a bowl game.

Wide receiver Jahan Dotson ran all over Maryland’s defense finishing the game with 11 receptions for 242 yards and three touchdowns breaking a program record for the most receiving yards in a single game.

Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa finished the game completing 41 of his 57 attempted passes for 371 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The Terps struggled to get the run game going finishing the game with 27 carries for 48 yards.

The Terps held on for most of the game but let up 17 points in the fourth quarter as the Nittany Lions came away with the win.

“All of these losses suck, and this one is disappointing. We had our opportunities,” head coach Michael Locksley said.

Here are some takeaways from Saturday’s matchup.

The Terps’ defense kept them in the game but ultimately, Maryland could not hold on.

Maryland’s defense seemed surprisingly rejuvenated after a stint of four games allowing opponents to score over 30 points.

The Terps held the Nittany Lions to just seven points in the first 30 minutes, the fewest amount since it let up just a field goal in the first half against Illinois. Penn State’s offense could not get going as quarterback Sean Clifford threw for 363 yards and the Nittany Lions picked up 95 yards on the ground, an area opposing offenses have exploited over the last few weeks.

In the second half, the narrative flipped as Dotson slipped past Jakorian Bennett for a 21-yard touchdown catch.

Halfway through the third quarter, Penn State successfully converted on eight of its 13 third down attempts. However, with about three minutes to go in the third quarter, Maryland’s defense stepped up at the right time.

The Terps’ offense turned the ball over deep into Penn State territory and the Nittany Lions got to work from their own three-yard line. They couldn’t get anything going and on third down, Maryland had the chance to get the ball back with plenty of time on the clock.

The defensive line brought the pressure forcing Clifford to make an incomplete pass and the Nittany Lions to punt the ball. The play gave Tagovailoa and the rest of Maryland’s offense the opportunity to move down the field with plenty of time on the clock. The Terps marched down the field in three minutes capped off with a touchdown pass to tight end Corey Dyches and a two point-conversion to Okonkwo.

On the next drive that Penn State had, Greg Rose picked up his second sack of the day for a loss of eight yards pinning the Nittany Lions deeper into their territory. However, on the next play, Clifford completed a pass straight down the middle of the field to Dotson, who raced into the end zone for his third touchdown of the day, this time for 86 yards.

“Better communication among the D-line, linebackers and safeties and cornerbacks but I’m going to have to watch the film... just communication,” defensive back Jordan Mosley said about how the defense could improve.

With less than 12 minutes remaining, Maryland once again forced Clifford to throw an incomplete pass giving the Terps the opportunity to answer Dotson’s third touchdown. The offense couldn’t get it done and on the next drive, the defense lost their momentum.

After letting the Nittany Lions convert on third down, Clifford completed a 45-yard pass to Dotson who nearly took it to the end zone again. The defense stopped Penn State from getting six, however, it successfully hit a 24-yard field goal extending its lead, 24-14.

Chigoziem Okonkwo had a slow start but came back strong

Okonkwo finished the game with a game-high 12 catches for 85 yards marking the first time a Terp caught 10 or more receptions since senior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. did so against Purdue in October of 2019.

“It was just in the game plan,” Okonkwo said. “We just felt like that was working.”

On back-to-back plays in the second quarter, Tagovailoa had two opportunities to make big plays for a first down and he did all he could, perfectly placing passes. However, on the first, Marcus Fleming dropped the ball by the sideline and on the second, Chigoziem Okonkwo dropped it in the middle of the field.

With less than three minutes remaining in the first half, Okonkwo dropped another passing opportunity but quickly redeemed himself. On the same drive, Okonkwo had two receptions for a total of 26 yards that ended with the Famaatau touchdown.

Maryland’s offense did not find any points until the first few seconds of the fourth quarter.

Spanning over the final two quarters, Tagovailoa marched the Terps down the field 52 yards in 10 plays over the span of about three minutes.

The drive ended with a touchdown from Dyches and a successful two-point conversion catch from Okonkwo to tie the game at 14 apiece.

Maryland will have to clean up its mistakes to keep bowl hopes alive

The Terps have a challenging slate ahead and with the loss, are still one win away from qualifying for a bowl game with only three chances remaining.

“It’s still about more what we do than it is what our opponents do. We just continue to make mistakes at the most inopportune times,” Locksley said.

Maryland will travel to East Lansing, Michigan next weekend to take on running back Kenneth Walker III and the rest of the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans. Although they fell to Purdue Saturday afternoon, 40-29, the Spartans will pose a challenge for the Terps. Following the road trip, Maryland returns home to take on No. 7 Michigan in its final game in College Park of the season. Lastly, on the road, the Terps will face Rutgers to close out its regular-season slate.

Maryland committed four penalties for 25 yards, a step up from its earlier games, however, the Terps had a number of other penalties that the Nittany Lions declined. The mistakes cost Maryland opportunities to score and further advance down the field. One holding penalty negated a 26-yard reception from Rakim Jarrett early in the fourth quarter when the Terps were searching for momentum.

Additionally, the issue of Maryland’s defense's inability to stop the Nittany Lions on the third down may translate into a challenge for the Terps going forward. The Terps allowed Penn State to convert on 10 of its 18 third-down attempts.

Ultimately between the drops, penalties, a missed extra point, a late-game interception and defensive troubles on the third down, it’s going to be a challenge for Maryland to find itself in the win column again with the schedule that lies ahead. If the Terps have their sights set on a bowl game, they will have to find ways to limit the avoidable mistakes.