Maryland football offense struggles late and falls to No. 22 Penn State

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

There was a need for an aggressive offense throughout Maryland’s game against Penn State. But when it mattered, the Terps failed to produce. 

When Taulia Tagovailoa sent a dart towards the right sideline a lurking Nittany Lion took his pass the other direction — 87 yards to the endzone. In the waning minutes of the contest, Tagovailoa was baited and his team paid the price. It was a drive meant to stem a surging Penn State tide. It instead effectively gave Maryland (5-4, 2-4 B1G) its fourth loss. 

“During those last five minutes, the defense gave us a chacne — they gave us a lot of opportunities — we tried to make it a one score game.” Tagovailoa said. “On the interception, that’s just a nice play by [Penn State’s] safety, number 15, he read my eyes.”  

When Maryland’s offense struggled to deliver, No. 22 Penn State (6-3, 3-2 B1G) quickly found its way and its offense eventually thrived in a, 31-14, win. 

“I felt like we had plenty of opportunities to win today,” head coach Mike Locksley said, “It’s still about more of what we do than it is what our opponents do, or have done. The good news its correctable.”

Throughout the first half, Maryland’s defense delivered and the offense had yet to follow suit. It was a strange turn of events for an offense that has enjoyed moderate success at home. For a considerable portion of the opening thirty minutes, the Terps accumulated just 76 yards. 

The mediocre yardage resulted in five straight punts. Drops and penalties were to blame for the offensive shortcomings, but the contest remained tight throughout an ugly opening half. The Terp defense, unlike their offensive counterparts, made Penn State work. And barring one quick drive that ended with a nifty Jahan Dotson touchdown reception, the Maryland defense played the best it had since it’s initial four-game streak. 

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford and his talented receivers still connected regularly, registering 155 yards in the first half, but the Maryland defense, thanks to its pressure in the pocket, never allowed the Nittany Lions to double or even extend the lead. Clifford completed just 53% of his passes and the offense averaged just 4.4 yards per play. 

After five straight listless drives, the Terps’ offense caught its stride in the sixth with five consecutive completions by Tagovailoa and his pass catchers. The possession ended with a strong touchdown run by Challen Faamatau and a missed PAT by Anthony Pecorella. 

In the face of ranked competition, the Terp defense proved to be stout. No penalties, few mistakes and almost no self-inflicted wounds against a veteran offense allowed Maryland to escape the first half down just a point. 

But the defense could not hold forever. And, as the initial Penn State touchdown drive indicated, Nittany Lions were far too talented and disciplined to miss out on consequential scoring opportunities. 

Coming out of the break, Penn State set the tone when Maryland couldn’t. The Terps’ offense went back to being lifeless, the Nittany Lions took the ball back and scored in a much more clinical 14-play drive that ended in another Clifford and Dotson touchdown reception. 

Maryland’s offense looked to return the favor, and after its second lively drive that dissolved with a Tagovailoa fumble, Terps marched down to tie again. Tagovailoa hit Corey Dyches for the initial six points and Chigoziem Okonkwo for the additional two to even the score at 14 apiece. 

Okonkwo finished with a game high 12 catches with 85 yards, complementing Tagovailoa’s 371 yard game. The two provided some highlights for the otherwise bipolar offensive showing.

“In the game plan we just felt like [my play] was working so we just kept going back to it,” Okonkwo said.

The Penn State offense continued to heat up and the Maryland defense opened at the seams. Clifford and Dotson regained the lead again with a deep post that allowed Dotson to sprint for over 60 yards across the plain. The 86-yard touchdown granted Penn State a lead it wouldn’t lose. 

Two more punts, actualized by false starts and drops, were sent by Maryland and the Clifford and Dotson onslaught continued. The defense officially had no answers and Dotson eclipsed 200 yards catching in a field goal scoring drive. 

With six minutes to go, down two possessions, the Terps had to recapture the energy they had to close the first half. Bolstered by penalties by the Nittany Lion defense, Maryland made its way down into the redzone, but Tagovailoa made another mistake that sucked all the life out of the contest. 

An 87-yard pick six put 31 points on the board for Penn State, and Maryland’s comeback hopes were futile. 

“I thought the fight was there,” Locksley said, “I thought a lot of our players competed for all four quarters. We just continue to make mistakes at the most inopportune times.”