Explosive Plays Offensively and Stifling Defense Catapults Maryland Football to First Win over Penn State Since 2014

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Freshman wide receiver Rakim Jarrett motioned from the right side of the line of scrimmage to the left side. Recognizing the defense didn’t motion a man to follow Jarrett, sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa fired a strike to Jarrett in stride. The standout freshman did the rest, cutting to the outside and using his speed for a 42-yard touchdown. 

That touchdown was the first of Jarrett’s career and an early indicator of Maryland’s (2-1 B1G) dominance in every phase of the game in its 35-19 win over Penn State (0-3 B1G). Maryland’s 35 points are their most ever against Penn State. Tonight’s win marked the program’s third ever over the Nittany Lions and the first since 2014. 

“All three phases contributed to the win, was happy early on with the way our offense executed,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “Our defense played all game long, we put them in tough situations. We had a lot of young players contribute in this win.”

Jarrett’s first touchdown reception displayed his electrifying speed and was one of five offensive plays over 25 yards for Maryland. The Terps were opportunistic on those big plays, making the Nittany Lions pay for lapses in communication. Tagovailoa finished 18-26 with 282 yards and three touchdowns, while Jarrett finished with a career-high 144 yards receiving. Dontay Demus also contributed 86 yards–building on his strong rapport with Tagovailoa.

“I feel like our whole offense, our defense as well, we’re finding a rhythm,” Tagovailoa said. “Coach [Scottie Montgomery] called a really good game, if we just continue to focus the big plays will just come.”

The defense smothered redshirt junior quarterback Sean Clifford all night long, registering seven sacks. That number is the highest total for Maryland in a conference game since they also recorded seven against Rutgers in 2016. In addition to their seven sacks, Maryland’s defense forced three turnovers as well. 

The three takeaways were Maryland’s first of the season and the catalyst for its +3-turnover differential. Maryland’s secondary was phenomenal all night, limiting big plays — not allowing the Nittany Lion receivers to gain separation.

“We were always really close to getting sacks and takeaways, all of the defensive coaches really emphasized turnovers,” safety Nick Cross said. “We worked a lot of deep ball drills, being able to come down with pass breakups and interceptions.”

On Penn State’s first offensive possession, Clifford and the Nittany Lions found a little rhythm. However, when they needed to most, Maryland’s defense stepped up in the red zone. On a 3rd and 6 from the 10-yard line, Clifford scrambled to the right and Cross met him for a strong open-field tackle. 

The next play, Penn State head coach James Franklin elected to go for it and the Terps defense was up to the task. Clifford targeted Parker Washington in the back of the endzone, but freshman cornerback Tarheeb Still was there in tight coverage to break up the play. 

After Maryland’s punt on the next possession, the Nittany Lion offense was presented with an opportunity to tie the game. However, on the following drive, defensive coordinator Jon Hoke dialed up the blitz on third down and the Terps executed it to perfection. Linebacker Chance Campbell and defensive linemen Sam Okuayinonu combined to swallow up Clifford, ending the Nittany Lions drive.

Building on the defense’s momentum, the next offensive drive Maryland built on its lead. Tagovailoa and Jarrett once again connected on an eerily similar touchdown to the first. Jarrett once again motioned from the right side of the field to the left. After creating separation from the defender, Jarrett caught another rocket from Tagovailoa and scampered down the sideline for a 62-yard touchdown. Both of those plays epitomized Jarrett’s explosiveness and Tagovailoa’s precision.

However, Maryland wasn’t done capitalizing on chunk plays offensively. On the next drive, facing a 2nd and 20 after Tagovailoa was called for intentional grounding, the Terps offense struck once again. On a delayed handoff, redshirt senior running back Jake Funk patiently waited for the offensive line to create a hole. Once he found the hole, Funk displayed a tremendous burst sprinting up the left-sideline for a 38-yard touchdown extending Maryland’s lead to 21-0.

With Maryland seemingly gathering all of the momentum, Clifford and the Nittany Lions offense bounced back. Penn State executed a 10-play, 75-yard drive capped off by an impressive leaping 20-yard touchdown catch from Jahan Dotson. Maryland’s offense was unable to convert after the Nittany Lion touchdown, but the defense picked them up. 

Forcing three consecutive incompletions and a Nittany Lion punt, the Terps offense took the field with 1:55 remaining in the first half and an opportunity to extend the lead. Maryland’s offense did exactly that– completing a six-play, 71-yard drive in 56 seconds. Facing a pivotal 3rd and 6 opportunity, Tagovailoa found Jarrett over the middle for 29 yards. 

Three plays later, once again facing a 3rd and 6 from the Nittany Lions 34-yard line, Tagovailoa found a wide open Demus who snuck behind the Penn State defense. That touchdown reception extended the Maryland lead to 28-7 and capped off a first-half keyed by explosive plays offensively.

The defense was also excellent in the first half, holding the Nittany Lions to 144 total yards and only 66 yards rushing. Cornerback Jakorian Bennett, Still and Cross made it difficult for Clifford to find open receivers throughout the first half. After its 28-point first half performance, Maryland has now scored 21 points or more in the first half in back-to-back conference games for the first time since joining the conference. 

To start the second half, Maryland’s defense picked up right where they left off. On 3rd and 1, Clifford dropped back looking for an open receiver and was sandwiched by Cross and linebacker Ayinde Eley losing the football. Then, Campbell picked up the ball and returned it 34 yards for a Maryland touchdown–lead by a sea of blockers. That play encapsulated Maryland’s defensive effort all game long, keyed by three of the team’s defensive leaders.

“When we all play together and play fast and physical we’ll be a very good defense,” Cross said. “It was those things we harped on, running to the ball and making sure we knew our assignments.”

However, that defensive dominance continued on the ensuing drive as the Terps picked up their fourth and five sacks of the game. As the Nittany Lions drove the ball into the redzone, Maryland’s defense stepped up as a unit. 

With stifling coverage on the backend, Clifford couldn’t find an open man and was sacked on back-to-back plays by defensive linemen Mosiah Nasili-Kite and linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II. Both of those sacks drove Penn State back to the 32-yard line and the Nittany Lions couldn’t convert on the 49-yard field goal.

As the second half progressed, the Nittany Lions defense improved, limiting Maryland’s success offensively. However, the special team’s unit picked them up as punter Anthony Pecorella pinned the Nittany Lions inside the five on back-to-back possessions. Pinned at its own two-yard line, Penn State executed a 16-play 98-yard drive finished off by a 23-yard reception by Washington. 

That score cut the Terps’ lead to 35-13, but it didn’t matter as Maryland’s defense continued to make big plays to close out the fourth quarter. On back-to-back possessions, cornerback Kenny Bennett and Cross picked off Clifford, making the quarterback pay for ill-advised decision-making. Washington caught his second touchdown pass with 11 seconds remaining, but the Terps still maintained a two-score advantage.

Winning the turnover battle, capitalizing on big plays offensively and limiting big plays defensively all contributed to Maryland’s impressive win over the Nittany Lions in State College. The Terps have now won two straight games and return home to face No. 3 Ohio State next Saturday in College Park.

“Great team win, I’m just so happy for the players in that locker room,” Locksley said. “This win is for Terp Nation and our players. I’m really happy that this young team got to enjoy success up here.”