Maryland football shocked the college football landscape Saturday thanks to a 35-19 dismantling of Penn State.
The Terps came into the matchup riding high after an overtime win against Minnesota, but still seemingly faced an uphill battle due to their recent history against the Nittany Lions, coming in as 25-point underdogs.
Here’s a closer look at the film and some key reasons why Maryland was so successful.
Maryland took advantage of Penn State’s man coverage
The Terrapin wide receiver corps was easily one of the deepest position groups heading into this season, and Saturday showed that.
Penn State came out playing mostly man-coverage, something that five-star freshman Rakim Jarrett mentioned after the game was taken as a sign of disrespect.
Jarrett exposed the Nittany Lions early with a motion off to the right side of the line, settling into the slot. With the cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields flat-footed, Jarrett cut inside after just three yards on a shallow crossing route and taking it 42 yards to the house.
Taulia Tagovailoa (@tauliaa12) connects with @RakimJarrett for the first touchdown of the freshman wide receiver's career, which puts Maryland football up 7-0 over Penn State.— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) November 7, 2020
It's the first touchdown for the Terps against the Nittany Lions since 2016. pic.twitter.com/xfcgjRGsb1
At the end of the first quarter, Maryland opted to go for a near-identical play call. Jarrett took his shallow crossing pattern slightly deeper and, despite Penn State dropping more in coverage, Taulia Tagovailoa was able to find Jarrett who once against took it in for a score.
And just like that, Maryland football is up 14-0 on the Nittany Lions.— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) November 7, 2020
Both touchdowns so far have come from freshman Rakim Jarrett, who came into the program as a five-star recruit. He also already has 3 catches for 108 yards — and we aren't even at the end of the first quarter pic.twitter.com/Db5rU802xs
The Terps continued to toy with the Penn State man coverage at the end of the first half with a designed rollout and levels concept.
Tagovailoa rolls right and has Jarrett on a short out, Brain Cobbs on a deep out, but finds Dontay Demus Jr. sneaking behind the defense for the touchdown. Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. was covering Demus, but was reading the quarterback and tried to help down on Cobbs, allowing for the separation at the back end.
Having such strong talent across the board at wide receiver and a talented, smart quarterback has made all the difference for Maryland in 2020, and against Penn State that was no different.
The Terrapin defense sent pressure all night
Maryland faced questions on the defensive side of the ball despite its overtime win against Minnesota.
The Terps had struggled stopping the run, but with Penn State not having much of a balanced attack, it allowed Jon Hoke and his defense to be more aggressive.
In the first quarter, Maryland lined up with three down-linemen, one stand-up edge and Chance Campbell standing at the nose.
With five defenders covering each wide receiver, the Maryland front was able to get to Sean Clifford fast by sending five rushers. Campbell stunted outside to the left and was free on the quarterback, while Mosiah Nasili-Kite broke free up the middle, which turned Clifford back into Sam Okuayinonu for the sack.
Defensive lineman Sam Okuayinonu had a giant play before the Maryland offense got back on the field to score, sacking QB Sean Clifford to halt Penn State's drive. pic.twitter.com/OecO8KuYFC— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) November 7, 2020
Early in the second half, Maryland sent a new pressure by way of an eight-man rush. Clifford felt the heat as four down linemen and two edge rushers crashed in, while Nick Cross hid himself behind the line and Chance Campbell occupied the middle as well.
Cross came in free on a delayed blitz while Ayinde “Ace” Eley got off his edge block, helping to force pressure and the ball to come loose for the scoop and score by Campbell.
Linebacker Chance Campbell with the fumble recovery and score for Maryland football. The Terps are up 35-7 — their most points ever against Penn State. @ccam42 has been sensational so far this season. He's also tied for the nation's lead in tackles per game (14.0). pic.twitter.com/smMSLv0c93— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) November 7, 2020
Maryland continued to use its four-down sets throughout the second half, as they kept generating pressure.
Later in the third quarter, Maryland sent four down-linemen and one edge rusher to occupy each of the offensive linemen and create pressure. Penn State running back Devyn Ford sensed the rush and had the B-gap open, so he released into a short route.
Maryland freshman linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II was then able to come screaming in through the A-gap with no running back help and get his second sack of the evening.
Being more aggressive was a stance head coach Mike Locksley wanted to see more of, and Hoke’s defense was able to deliver against Penn State. Moving forward, the Terps will need to have similar success against teams that are more truly balanced in the pass and run.
Nick Cross had himself a game
It’s no secret that Nick Cross was a standout player during his freshman season in 2019, and his growth as a sophomore has continued to become more apparent with each game.
Against Penn State, Cross tallied eight tackles, two pass breakups, one sack, one forced fumble and an interception.
Cross was locked in from the start and was a key reason why Penn State was unable to answer Maryland’s opening score. On third-and-6, Cross was 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, but spied on Clifford and was able to chase him halfway across the field to the sideline, where he met him for a stop — forcing a fourth-and-3 situation.
Nice play by Maryland DB Nick Cross. pic.twitter.com/YwxURpFRf7— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) November 7, 2020
Throughout the game though, Clifford and the Nittany Lion offense kept taking deep shots down the field. Connecting on these could have given the offense a spark and Clifford confidence, but Cross came up big as the last line of defense.
Pass breakups are not a glorious stat, compared to interceptions, but Cross came through multiple times by getting his hand on balls just before reaching receivers or by giving hits in the back to receivers coming down with the ball, knocking them loose.
Another stop for the Maryland defense, this coming from the duo of Nick Cross (@Nick_Cross26) and Tarheeb Still (@tarheebstill21_)— Lila Bromberg (@lilabbromberg) November 7, 2020
The Terps have allowed Penn State just 52 yards so far, compared to 167 of their own. pic.twitter.com/eWKzAg78IU
There wasn’t much for Maryland fans to enjoy in the team’s 59-0 loss against Penn State last season, but Cross came through with a highlight-reel interception that showed his potential despite the scoreline.
In 2020, Cross had a similar result on a similar play, as he was able to read Clifford’s eyes and follow the overthrown ball across the field to the sideline where he snagged it just before heading out of bounds.
Maryland football proved Saturday that it has the athletes to compete with just about any program in the country. As that talent and growth gets paired with growth from the coaching staff, this team will continue to improve and make plays like it did on Saturday.