Instant reactions: Maryland 15, Penn State 51

Maryland dropped its fourth consecutive game inside a “sold-out” SECU Stadium as ninth-ranked Penn State controlled the game from start to finish in a 44-15 loss, falling to 5-4 (2-4) on the season with a road game against Nebraska next.

Instant reactions from Maryland’s latest humiliating, deflating, yet all-too-familiar loss:

Miscues and turnovers put Maryland into an early deficit

Maryland’s slow starts resurfaced on Saturday after Penn State won the toss and elected to defer. Maryland’s opening possession approached midfield despite WR Jeshaun Jones being called for an illegal blindside block. Taulia Tagovailoa would turn to TE Preston Howard then Jones to pick the yards back up, setting up a 4th-and-1 at the UMD 45, but a designed pass to TE Corey Dyches in the flat was quickly sniffed out.

Penn State had no problems capitalizing on the short field, ending an eight-play drive with a six-yard TD catch by WR Dante Cephas with CB Ja’Quan Sheppard in coverage, the first of two touchdowns the transfer cornerback allowed in the first half.

Maryland looked to create some momentum on the next drive, using screen plays and quick reads to help Maryland’s offense drive down into Penn State territory, just outside the redzone. That would come to a screeching halt, though, as WR Tai Felton was stripped on a catch over the middle for a Penn State takeaway and second ‘turnover’ for the Terps.

Penn State squandered the takeaway, but it ended up being the lone possession that didn’t turn into points as the Nittany Lions found the endzone on three of their four first-half drives, taking a comfortable 21-7 lead into halftime. 

Two PSU playmakers dominate Maryland’s defense

With all the emphasis on Penn State’s rushing attack, Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton combined for 111 yards on 22 carries as the Nittany Lions racked up 158 yards, yet it was the passing game that allowed the most big plays on Saturday.

Tight ends have been the Achilles heel for Maryland through the years, and while Theo Johnson entered Saturday second on the team in receiving yards, Saturday was the Tyler Warren show as he punched in 51 yards and one touchdown on four catches. WR Dante Cephas was also able to shine against Maryland’s secondary, punching in a pair of touchdowns against Ja’Quan Sheppard in the corner of the endzone on six catches and seven targets. Cephas added a second touchdown in the second half with CB Tarheeb Still in coverage.

Of course, Cephas and Warren were far from the only standouts as WR Keandre Lambert-Smith added a game-high 95 yards on a team-high eight targets and a game-high 12 targets as Maryland’s defense gave up nine big plays in the loss.

Penn State finds pressure against Maryland’s offense

Maryland rolled with a starting offensive line featuring (L-R) DJ Glaze, Amelio Moran, Mike Purcell, Corey Bullock and Gottlieb Ayedze against a Penn State defense without DE Chop Robinson (concussion). It turned out Penn State didn’t need him to overpower Maryland’s offensive line as the Nittany Lions had a field day.

Six sacks and 12 tackles for loss for -63 yards proved too much for Maryland to overcome, exposing Maryland’s biggest weakness against arguably the Big Ten’s top defense.

Penn State was still able to find success in the backfield, generating three sacks and seven tackles for loss in the first half, while a pressure from Keon Wylie forced Taulia Tagovailoa into an intentional grounding, giving up yards that TE Corey Dyches would pick up on the very next play.

Taulia opens on fire…and not much else

Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa always seems to find himself among the first players to draw criticism among fans, but on Saturday, the veteran quarterback opened the game in stride.

Tagovailoa opened the game with 17 consecutive completions, setting a new career-high while tying South Carolina QB Spencer Rattler for the longest streak in the nation. Taulia added a career-high 22 first-half completions for 211 yards.

WR Kaden Prather was able to come down with a few big plays in the passing game, while TE Corey Dyches was targeted early and often through the night. Dyches finished the day with a team-high eight catches to Prather’s team-high 75 yards, but in the end, it wasn’t enough from Maryland’s skillplayers.

The first score of the day came from Maryland capitalizing on a fourth-down penalty as Colton Spangler drew a roughing the kicker, giving Maryland an automatic first down. A third-down completion to Kaden Prather pushed Maryland into the redzone before Taulia found RB Roman Hemby for a seven-yard touchdown pass.

Yet still, Maryland struggled to generate much consistency on offense as Penn State’s pressure was consistently collapsing Tagovailoa’s pocket.

Of course, it didn’t help that Maryland was able to generate zero production on the ground.

Maryland finished the first half with zero yards on the ground and negative yards on a sack-adjusted average on the loss as Roman Hemby primarily drew carries in the loss.

Hemby finished with zero yards on five attempts, while Littleton’s lone carry ended in a three-yard loss. Two days after head coach Mike Locksley noted Colby McDonald “earned the opportunity” for an increased role, the third-string back didn’t draw a carry or target until the fourth quarter. That put more pressure on the Terps, who finished the day averaging over eight yards to go on 3rd downs in the loss and converted just 33% of their attempts. Defensively, Maryland allowed Penn State to convert nearly half of its third-down attempts and all three fourth-down attempts.

Maryland appeared to give themselves some hope after finding the endzone less than four minutes into the fourth quarter as Jeshaun Jones added a one-yard receiving touchdown before Antwain Littleton’s successful two-point rush cut it to 31-15. Penn State would have no problem quieting the dozens of Maryland fans who remained inside SECU Stadium with the game largely decided.

With just under ten minutes remaining, Taulia threw his first interception of the day before fumbling the ball on the ensuing possession, marking the third turnover of the day. As the game progressed, Taulia Tagovailoa’s decision-making regressed as he finished the game with an interception and fumble, putting the final nail in the coffin for Maryland’s chances, and likely season.

Kevin Sumlin rejoins Maryland full-time 

After missing last week’s game vs. Northwestern, co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Kevin Sumlin was back with Maryland along the sidelines against Penn State as he rejoins the team, per team spokesman, following his arrest.

Analyst Louis Swaba filled in for Sumlin as tight ends coach in practice, while the buzz was that Sumlin was expected to rejoin the team by next week’s road game at Nebraska. Head coach Mike Locksley has not yet addressed Sumlin’s status prior to his return.

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