STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Since the two programs first met on Nov. 17, 1917, Penn State’s home stadium — whether it be New Beaver Field or, since 1960, Beaver Stadium — has been a house of horrors for Maryland football. The Nittany Lions, ranked as the 14th-best team in the country in the most recent AP poll, entered Saturday having won 23 of the 25 games played in Happy Valley.
The caveat to that statistic is that both of the Terps’ wins had come in the last four matchups, the latest of which was in 2020 — albeit in an empty stadium because of COVID-19 — that featured many of the same players that took the field in the 2022 rendition of the matchup.
For a program still searching for a true rival in the Big Ten, Saturday’s showdown with Penn State — a program that recruits many of the same players as Maryland and has a large alumni presence in the Washington, D.C. area — presented a handful of opportunities. Not only would a win mean that Maryland would be 7-3 for the first time in over a decade and secure its first win over a ranked Big Ten team since joining the conference, it would be undeniable evidence that Maryland is, at a minimum, trending closer to consistently competing with programs like Penn State that have a long tradition of playing winning football.
For a few years now, the Terps have felt like they were right on the doorstep of turning a corner and breaking through. In front of 108,796 raucous fans, they could’ve made a definitive statement.
From the opening kickoff to the final whistle, it was crystal clear that was not going to happen. At halftime, Maryland was down 27-0, the second consecutive game in which it was held scoreless in the first two quarters.
The final score was 30-0, but it might as well have been 100-0. The result of Saturday’s game was never in question.
“It is time that we, starting with myself, take a deep look at everything we’re doing on offense, on defense, on special teams and find a way to get us back on the right track,” Maryland head coach Mike Locksley said after the game.
Maryland’s all-time record against Penn State is now 3-42-1. Mike Locksley’s teams have been shut out twice in his four seasons as head coach: against Penn State in both 2019 and 2022. The 2020 victory over the Nittany Lions that looked like a potential step toward competing with the Big Ten’s top programs now looks more like a blip on the radar than a harbinger of future results.
Nothing epitomized the Terps’ frustratingly close grasps with true success in recent years than a pair of fourth-and-1 plays in the first half. Needing a stop to spark some semblance of positive momentum, Maryland instead folded and allowed the worst-case scenario to occur. Nicholas Singleton, one of Penn State’s star freshman running backs, took handoffs to the end zone on both fourth-down plays from 45 and 27 yards out, respectively.
Singleton and fellow first-year back Kaytron Allen combined for 179 of Penn State’s 190 first-half rushing yards, the majority of the Nittany Lions’ 296 total yards of offense in the opening 30 minutes. For comparison, Maryland had only 27 yards of offense in the first half — just seven on the ground.
“We just gotta do our part,” Maryland redshirt freshman running back Roman Hemby said. “Obviously, [less than] 10 rushing yards isn’t what we’re looking for ... we weren’t able to make plays when they mattered the most for us.”
The Terps’ defense, especially against the run, looked overmatched by Penn State’s linemen, and the same could be said for Maryland’s offense, which was entirely unable to slow down the Nittany Lions’ dangerous defensive front. Penn State sacked Maryland redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa seven times, making him uncomfortable all evening.
Chop Robinson, a sophomore linebacker that transferred to Penn State from Maryland in the offseason, contributed two sacks of his own. Robinson was the highest-rated class of 2021 recruit that saw the field for the Terps last year and was considered by many to be a potential building block for the program before his departure.
“They pressured our quarterback quite a bit today, not just, you know, Chop, but all across the board. It’s a matter of covering people up,” Locksley said.
Whether it was the Nittany Lions’ play, the intimidating environment or both, Tagovailoa looked lost all game long. He passed for a career-low 74 yards, just one week removed from a 77-yard performance against Wisconsin that was then then the low mark of his time in College Park. It wasn’t just him — the Terps were dominated in essentially every facet of the game — but for a team that needs to put points on the board to win, Tagovailoa did not play winning football.
“He’s just like the rest of us on the offensive side of the ball. We haven’t played very well,” Locksley said of Tagovailoa’s recent struggles. “We haven’t executed nor gone out and did the things that I’ve seen us do in practice. It’s not showing up in the games.”
As the rain clouds rolled in and the sun set in State College, hopes for a special season from Maryland faded to black. The outlook for Maryland to bounce back with a win next weekend looks bleak, as it hosts No. 2 Ohio State, a team it has never beat.
Perhaps the Terps will pull off a shocker and defeat the Buckeyes — a result that would be the most unexpected win in recent program history — but their chances are slim. Maryland wasn’t expected to leave Beaver Stadium with a win, but in order to prove that this year’s team is truly different than the ones that preceded it, it needed to at least be competitive.
“It was a hard game,” junior defensive back Beau Brade said. “We thought we were coming in here, you know, really, you know, to beat them. We thought we were capable of it — which we still think we are — just a rough day, didn’t go well for us.”
Players and coaches within Maryland’s program have admitted that they need to win more games against Penn State to call the series anything close to a rivalry. Saturday, it looked like those feelings were mutual.
Three things to know
1. Tagovailoa looked completely out of sorts. Just a week after posting arguably the worst performance of his college career, Tagovailoa looked rattled yet again. He was entirely ineffective passing the ball and couldn’t make anything happen with his legs either. The offensive line did him no favors, but a player with expectations as lofty as Tagovailoa needs to play better if Maryland is going to have any chance against teams like Penn State.
2. Maryland’s run defense was nowhere to be found again. Like Tagovailoa, Maryland’s defense looked abhorrent against Wisconsin and didn’t improve against Penn State. The Terps allowed 278 yards against the Badgers and 249 against the Nittany Lions for a total of 527 yards allowed on the ground over the past two weeks. That aspect of the game has been a weakness all season for Maryland, but it has been more apparent recently.
3. The Nittany Lions continue to dominate the Terps. In the series’ 105-year and 46-game history, Penn State has lost to Maryland just three times. The potential is there for the game to be a regional rivalry given the two programs’ lack of a natural conference rival and their relative proximity to each other, but that will have to wait until the series gets more competitive.