The Maryland football team lost to Penn State on Saturday, 31-30, in Mike Locksley's first game as the Terps' interim head coach. Maryland and Penn State played before a bipartisan crowd of 69,948 at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.
On the day when he became Penn State's all-time completions leader, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg went over 300 yards and had three touchdowns. Maryland quarterback Perry Hills ran for 124 yards and threw for 225, but he threw three interceptions that prevented Maryland from getting over the top.
Their loss pushes the Terps to 2-5 overall and 0-3 in Big Ten, and it all but extinguishes whatever faint hopes they might've had at cobbling together six wins for bowl eligibility.
The Terps out-gained Penn State on offense, 466 yards to 363, but a barrage of mistakes and misfortune prevented Maryland from eking out a win.
Maryland was competitive from the game's outset and actually outplayed Penn State for most of the first half. The Terps moved the ball with efficiency, getting inside Nittany Lion territory on each of their first seven possessions – bolstered, no doubt, by repeatedly strong field position. But Hills threw an interception on Maryland's first drive and then fumbled in the shadow of Penn State's goalposts later in the quarter. And when Penn State running back Saquon Barkley fumbled the ball away in the second quarter deep inside Lion territory. (After six weeks without attempting a field goal, Brad Craddock missed a 51-yarder in his first attempt Saturday.)
The second half was easily the most exciting half of football Maryland has played in a while. The teams traded leads several times, with one sequence seeing five scores in a row between the two teams. DeAndre Lane caught the first touchdown of his career and only his second catch of the season on a 10-yard strike from Hills at the end of the third quarter as part of a frenetic series of lead changes. The teams traded fumble recoveries with 10 minutes left on the clock and Maryland trailing, 31-30, but neither team could score.
That set up a tense conclusion. Hackenberg fumbled away a snap just inside midfield with a shade more than five minutes to play. The turnover gave Maryland, still trailing by a point, a critical chance to get ahead. The Terps turned the ball over on downs, but the game's late offensive futility continued when Penn State went three downs and out after that. Hills and Maryland's offense took the field with more than a minute of clock time and a one-point deficit – and a terrific chance to win the game. But Hills's first pass of the series was tipped and intercepted, sealing the defeat.
Three things to know
1. Maryland's offense was really fun. Honestly! Locksley pulled out all sorts of trickery on Saturday: Will Likely end-arounds, Will Likely fake end-arounds to set up swing passes and screens, misdirections, options, you name it. And things went pretty well, despite a few turnovers. The Terps scored 30 points against a great defense, and they rang up almost 500 yards of total offense on 76 plays. For one afternoon, Maryland's offense was both interesting and reasonably good.
2. The big play scorched Maryland. The Terps did well against Penn State's putrid offensive line and harassed Hackenberg well enough for most of the game. But for whatever faults he has, Hackenberg has always retained the ability to deliver a crisp deep ball. As the second quarter wound down, Hackenberg was just 4 of 11 passing, but he'd thrown for 153 yards and a touchdown because Maryland's secondary couldn't do anything about his most vertical throws. Maryland's toast was spread evenly: Safety Anthony Nixon (twice) and cornerbacks Will Likely and Sean Davis were each victimized on one of Hackenberg's bombs. Those led directly to each of Penn State's 17 first-half points, and similar struggles plagued the defense in the second half, too.
3. The game atmosphere worked well. An announced total of 69,948 patrons filed into Baltimore's NFL facility to watch Saturday's game. The crowd was split close to evenly, with probably a few thousand more Maryland fans in the building than Penn State fans. But everyone was loud, the tailgates looked vibrant and reports of feuding fans were scarce. Those in attendance were treated to a decent enough football game, and Maryland got to sink its teeth a bit more deeply into the Baltimore market. The game was reasonably interesting, albeit apparently not enough for everybody.