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Grading Maryland football’s positions after its loss to No. 22 Penn State

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Maryland’s offense struggled to put points on the board.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

For the third time this season, Maryland football fell to a ranked opponent. First, it was then-No. 5 Iowa and then-No. 7 Ohio State, but on Saturday night it was No. 22 Penn State that came to College Park to collect a win.

The Terps, who came into the game with a 5-3 record, gave up 24 second-half points en route to an eventual 31-14 win for the Nittany Lions. Maryland is still in search of its sixth win, which would make it bowl eligible for the first time in five years. The program will have another chance to claim win No. 6 next Saturday in East Lansing, Michigan when it will take on the Michigan State Spartans.

But before looking ahead to the three games left on Maryland’s 2021 schedule, it’s time to find out this week’s positional grades from the Terps’ fourth loss of the season.

Quarterback

The Terps resorted to one of their most pass-heavy games of the season. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was forced to air it out and finished with 57 pass attempts, marking the first time this season that the junior has had at least 50 pass attempts in a single game. His preview season-high was 43 attempts.

Tagovailoa was solid for Maryland early on but fell off late. He had 371 passing yards and one touchdown, along with 41 completions which was another season-high. His one interception came late in the game when Maryland trailed by 10 and the Nittany Lions took it back the other way for six to seal the game. Tagovailoa did throw an initial pick earlier in the fourth quarter, but fortunately for him, the play was negated due to a hold.

The junior also had trouble with a high snap in the red zone in the third quarter that eventually gave Penn State back possession. Despite the turnovers, Tagovailoa still delivered a decent effort. It was an up-and-down performance from Tagovailoa and his inability to limit mistakes when Maryland faces the top teams in the conference is coming back to bite the program.

Grade: B

Running back

Tagovailoa threw the ball 57 times and that was partly due to how futile the program’s running game was on Saturday. Penn State ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten in rushing defense coming into the game, but Maryland’s backs didn’t get much done on the ground.

Senior Challen Faamatau led the way with 11 carries and redshirt senior Tayon Fleet-Davis was right behind him with eight. Neither back was able to produce much, as they combined for under four yards per carry in what was a very pass-heavy game for Maryland. Especially in the first half, the Terps’ lack of a balanced attack hurt them on the scoreboard. Maryland had just three total rushing yards at the end of the opening half.

The Terps need more out of their top-two running backs, despite them combining for over 100 scrimmage yards when all was said and done. Their early inefficiency made the Terps fairly one-dimensional and it allowed Penn State to eventually break the game open in the second half. The backs will look for a more complete performance next week.

Grade: C+

Wide receiver

Just a week removed from one of the best efforts from the wideouts this season, Maryland’s wide receivers didn't have their most efficient outing in 2021. The tight ends did a lot of the work in the passing game and that reflected on the Terps’ wideouts overall production.

Sophomore Rakim Jarrett had six catches for 70 yards to lead the Terps’ receivers in both categories, while freshman Marcus Fleming added five catches for 38 yards. Tai Felton, Brian Cobbs and Carlos Carriere combined for just six catches and 84 yards. Carriere ended with just 23 yards on two catches off five targets, a far cry from last week’s 134-yard effort.

Maryland’s receivers continue to struggle with drops at times as well. It wasn't the quality performance that Maryland needed from the wideouts to secure an upset victory, and if the Terps want to hang around with teams like Michigan and Michigan State, the team’s wide receivers will need to shift into a different gear in the coming weeks.

Grade: C

Tight end

Last week it was the wide receivers that came through in a big way for Maryland, but this time around it was the team’s top two tight ends that executed well offensively. Senior Chigoziem Okonkwo and sophomore Corey Dyches carried Maryland in the passing game and provided Tagovailoa with good outings.

Okonkwo finished the game with a game-high 12 catches for 85 yards. It marked the first time a Terp caught 10 or more receptions since senior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. did just that against Purdue back in October of 2019. Okonkwo struggled early though and had a few drops, but this was easily his best effort of the season production-wise. Keep in mind, coming into the game the senior had 20 catches through eight games.

Dyches was also a solid factor in the passing game, totaling four catches for 38 yards and a touchdown, which came in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter. The duo of Okonkwo and Dyches combined for 16 of Tagovailoa’s 41 completions, showing that they are very much capable of carrying a good portion of the load on offense.

Grade: A

Offensive line

Penn State’s defensive front had its way with Maryland’s protection on Saturday. Tagovailoa was forced to elude defenders on a significant amount of his throws and the constant pressure put a cap on him being able to extend plays.

While Tagovailoa was running for his life, the discipline from the offensive line continues to be an issue at this point in the season. There was just one false start committed, but Maryland was flagged for three holds along the line of scrimmage, two of which were declined because of other impending penalties on the play.

Even worse for the offensive line, a high snap from center Spencer Anderson turned the ball over back to Penn State at a crucial point in the third quarter when Maryland was down 14-6. It was an ugly day from the offensive line and the Terps’ 14 total points were a direct result.

Grade: D+

Defensive line

If Maryland’s defense wants to take away any positives from giving up a total of 456 yards, it’s that the defensive line played “winning football” as head coach Michael Locksley put it after the defeat.

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford had pressure put on him all game and Penn State’s ground game was pretty ineffective. All of Maryland’s three sacks came via the defensive line. Senior Greg Rose collected two sacks and junior Tyler Baylor notched the other one. Junior Mosiah Nasili-Kite also performed well, registering six solo tackles and two tackles for a loss.

In the rushing game, the Nittany Lions averaged just 2.8 yards per rush as a team, and their leading rusher had just 50 yards. The Terps’ defensive line came to play and it was one of the more consistent positional groups against Penn State.

Grade: A-

Linebacker

The continued absence of freshman Branden Jennings makes Maryland’s linebacker corps less lethal. The linebackers failed to make much of a difference in this one, albeit helping clog up Penn State’s ground game.

Sophomore Ruben Hyppolite II led the group with four tackles, three of which were solo, and sophomore Gereme Spraggins finished not too far behind him with three tackles of his own.

The middle of the field was for the taking in this one and that’s where Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson did most of his damage. The second-half defensive lapse was mostly on the secondary, but another average day for the linebackers allowed Maryland to concede at least 30 points for the fifth consecutive game.

Grade: C

Secondary

Maryland’s defensive backs simply had no answer for the budding star that is Dotson. Penn State’s top wideout hauled in 11 catches for 242 yards and a stunning three touchdowns in what turned out to be a torching of the Terps’ secondary.

Senior Jakorian Bennett was beat on a few noticeable plays, junior Nick Cross struggled to make a positive impact and it just wasn’t a complete effort from this group. Penn State’s Clifford finished with 27 completions for 363 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, highlighted by his 86-yard touchdown strike to Dotson in the final quarter.

Maryland’s defensive backs had a strong start, holding Penn State to just 155 passing yards in the first half, but it went downhill from there. The Nittany Lions also converted 10 of its 18 third downs, with a bunch of those conversions coming in the passing game.

Grade: D+

Special teams

Another game, another moment of struggle on special teams for Maryland. It’s something that has plagued the Terps all season long, and this time it was senior kicker Joseph Petrino who was unable to convert. Right after Maryland’s first touchdown of the game, Petrino hooked his extra point wide as the Terps were left with just six points in the first half. The senior did not attempt a field goal.

Maryland’s punting unit also had quite a few tries on Saturday. Juniors Colton Spangler and Anthony Pecorella punted on eight separate occasions and averaged 41.8 yards per punt, slightly under the punting duo’s season average. Only two of Maryland’s eight punts landed within the Nittany Lions’ 20-yard line.

Overall, the missed extra point put a dent in Maryland’s special teams’ performance, and there always seems to be something not going in Maryland’s favor regarding the special teams unit as a whole.

Grade: C-