Maryland quarterback Josh Jackson seemed surprised to hear about his team’s past offensive struggles against Penn State Monday.
The Terps have only managed a field goal in each of their last two matchups against the Nittany Lions, stifled, to say the least.
“I didn’t know that stat, so that’s um interesting,” he said, seemingly baffled. “But this is a new team and a new offense.”
Under Jackson’s leadership, Maryland hopes to sweep its last two performances against Penn State under the rug and set a new tone in the series.
Last season, the Nittany Lions held the Terps to a measly 74 rushing yards, gaining just 2.1 yards per play on the run. Maryland could only gain 13 first downs and an overall 4.4 yards per play. Quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome was sacked five times and the team had two fumbles.
In 2017, the Terps converted 1-of-15 third down attempts and came up short on all three of their fourth down tries. Quarterback Max Bortenschlager was sacked five times and the offense fumbled the ball four times.
“It was definitely frustrating, you know, knowing all the playmakers that we had,” running back Javon Leake said. “I feel like this year is going to be a lot better. We have a lot more play callers, a lot more places to put them in space, so it’s going to be fun to just get us to the edge. … We got a lot of speed, so it’s a lot more fun this year.”
That new style was on full display through the first two games of the season, producing in a way no Maryland team ever has. With 79 points over Howard, followed by 63 against then-No. 21 Syracuse, the 2019 Terps marked the first time in program history with at least 56 points scored in consecutive games. The win over the Orange also set the record for program’s most points over a ranked opponent.
But Maryland head coach Mike Locksley’s new-look offense looked lost in translation against Temple in Week 3.
Maryland missed four of its six red zone chances, failing to convert on fourth and goal three times. The team went 5-of-21 on third down attempts and 1-of-6 on fourth down chances, while Jackson threw an interception and was sacked four times.
“That’s kind of an outlier game for Josh,” Locksley said. “He maybe had a not as good a game as he’s had the first two opportunities out, but I don’t think we need to hit the panic button or change who he is, or I don’t need to change who I am as a coach.
“My expectation based on how he’s practiced thus far is that he’ll be able to go out and execute the offense in the manner that he’s done the first couple of opportunities that we’ve had.”
Locksley said he’s had a couple one-on-one meetings with Jackson, and offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery has also gone over film with the quarterback individually, to focus on his “eye discipline” in the way he sees the field and executes reads to make plays faster.
The team blamed its errors on all-around poor execution, and Locksley said over the bye week, his squad focused on pin-pointing and correcting that, as well as fine-tuning fundamentals to prepare to face a dominant defense. Locksley said that he’s been impressed with the way the team has responded, taking the disappointment from the loss and turning it into hard work.
Locksley has stressed all season that his team takes each week as its own, with the sole focus on the game ahead. The past woes against Penn State aren’t a thought on his mind, but he recognizes the opportunity his team has to make a big statement come Friday.
“This is a big game for us because It’s the start of conference play and we play in a tough league, so to open up with a team of Penn State’s caliber — it’s very challenging — but I know our team is excited to face a good program like Penn State here at home,” Locksley said. “We’re expecting it to be a four quarter game, a 60 minute game, and this time with us being able to execute the way we need to — to find a way to win.”