The Penn State offense picked up right where it left off last week with an 84-yard touchdown drive on the first series of the game en route to a 38-14 victory over Maryland.
Up until Saturday’s game, the Nittany Lions had struggled mightily in the first halves of games under head coach James Franklin. Following the victory against Minnesota, Franklin and his coaching staff instituted a “chaos” period in practices throughout the week to kick-start the offense against the Terrapins.
The results were immediate.
Quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley took the offense 84 yards to put Penn State on the board early. Barkley ran for 41 of his 202 rushing yards on the first drive that led to a five-yard Mike Gesicki touchdown from McSorley.
Franklin downplayed the effectiveness of the “chaos drills” following the game, giving credit to the offense’s execution and play-calling of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.
“It’s something we did that was important but comes down to the players executing and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead calling a great game,” an excited Franklin said following the game.
The Nittany Lions’ victory over the Terrapins was the second victory in a row over an undefeated team. And there’s the possibility for a third should Ohio State come into Happy Valley undefeated in two weeks following Penn State’s bye week. The bye week comes at an opportune time for the Nittany Lions and Franklin.
“Great momentum going into the bye week,” Franklin said, “We need this time off. Some of our injuries won’t heal in a week, but some will.”
Coming into the game, Penn State’s game plan was to get on the board early and start much faster than the team has in past weeks and the 84-yard opening drive helped them do just that. While the fast start was good for the Nittany Lions, it was getting McSorley more involved in the running game that paid the biggest dividends.
“Getting Trace more involved in the run game helped us,” Franklin said of the red-shirt sophomore. “It’s one more thing for the defense to defend. The mobility of the quarterback position will be important for us moving forward.”
McSorley getting involved the running game, combined with the offensive lines, opened the flood gates for Barkley and his performance.
“We’re more physical up front. When you do that, you’re able to have a more successful offense. It starts up front.” Franklin said.
McSorley and Barkley combined for 435 yards of total offense Saturday afternoon, 202 of which came from Barkley. Accounting for the other 233 yards McSorley’s arm, which threw for 152-yards and two touchdowns, McSorley’s legs, which scampered for 81 yards and a touchdown.
Gesicki hauled in the first touchdown, and wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins hauled in another in the third quarter. Miles Sanders found his way to the end-zone in the fourth quarter to all but seal the game with the first touchdown of his career coming on a 25-yard rush.
Tyler Davis continued his perfect ways on the field goal front with a 30-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Penn State’s defense has struggled with injuries — losing seven linebackers this season — but it was one of the make-shift linebackers who stood out Saturday. Koa Farmer had the best game of his career filling in at one of the outside linebacker positions.
A redshirt sophomore, Farmer has struggled to find a comfortable position since arriving in State College three years ago. The converted safety finished the game with five tackles, one-and-a-half of those coming for a loss. Farmer’s sack on quarterback Perry Hills in the second quarter forced the lone fumble of the day for the Terrapins’ offense.
“I’m happy for him. Koa’s been a man without a home since he’s been here.” Franklin said. “It’s nice to see him make an impact.”
Brandon Smith led the Nittany Lions’ defense with 14 tackles on the day and had his first career interception in the first quarter on a pass made by Hills as he was getting hit.
Coming into the game, Maryland was averaging 300-yards per game on the ground. The Penn State defense changed that stat in a hurry Saturday, limiting the Terrapins to 170 yards on the ground and 270 yards total.
The two Maryland scoring drives came as the result of poor tackling, the first of which came on a 66-yard screen pass from Hills to Ty Johnson. The second was a 26-yard rush by Lorenzo Harrison that put the Terrapins in scoring range as Harrison shed tackles left and right to set up a Tyrrell Pigrome rushing touchdown from seven yards out. Scoring stopped there for a Maryland team that had been averaging 43.2 points per game.
Whenever the defense needed a big play this afternoon, they made it, even while struggling in the tackling department. Finishing tackles will be a point of emphasis for the defense as they head into the bye week.
“The tackling needs to be better. We are tackling too high,” Franklin said.
The cost of victory
While Penn State put together its best game of the season on both sides of the ball, it came at a cost: Starting right tackle Andrew “Nelly” Nelson looks to be out for the season.
The injury happened on a second-quarter sack of McSorley. As the pile of players was going to the ground, it looked as though Nelson’s right leg was rolled upon by a member of the pile. Moving forward, the Nittany Lions will be looking to Brendon Mahon to fill the right tackle position as Paris Palmer will take over the left tackle spot vacated by Mahon.
Fortunately for Penn State, this isn’t a catastrophic injury in regards to depth — the Nittany Lions have depth on the offensive line for the first time in recent years.
“We would not have been able to survive this from a depth standpoint a year ago, two years ago,” Franklin said.
Penn State heads into the bye week with a lot of momentum heading into the second half of the season. The performance over the last two weeks has breathed a lot of fresh air into a program that looked to be struggling after the first four games of the season.
“It’s a step in the right direction. We are making progress, I see it very, very clearly,” Franklin said. “The progress is happening.”
Image credit: Chris Knight/AP