By Logan Hill
After being sacked on first down, Sean Clifford dropped back and found Jahan Dotson slanting across the field. Dotson zipped up the middle of the field for 86 yards, finding the end zone and giving Penn State the lead for good.
Maryland couldn’t keep things rolling when No. 22 Penn State came to College Park, falling to the Nittany Lions, 31-14.
“[I] felt like we had plenty of opportunities to win the game today,” coach Mike Locksley said. “As we continue to say each and every week, it’s still a lot more what we do than what our opponents do.”
With Penn State getting the ball to start the day, Maryland forced a quick three and out, prompting the first punt of the game. On their ensuing drive, Maryland’s offense made it all the way to the Penn State 18, but an intentional grounding penalty on Taulia Tagovailoa backed them up 18 yards and out of field goal range. They would punt, setting up the Nittany Lions’ next possession from their own 20 yard line.
After punting on their first drive, Penn State would do the same on their next. Struggling to get going early, Clifford missed a throw on third down, ending their possession almost as quickly as it began.
Maryland suffered the same fate on their next possession. Tagovailoa’s third down pass attempt was deflected by Daequan Hardy, prompting their second punt of the contest.
Penn State’s next drive would end much differently than their first two.
After a short run by Keyvone Lee on first down picked up one yard, Clifford went to the air. Dropping back with a strong pocket to throw from, Clifford found Keandre Lambert-Smith for a gain of 30 yards to the Maryland 44. Lee picked up six more on first down, and on second down, Clifford connected with Dotson, who was wide open running down the seam for a 38 yard touchdown. In just four plays, the Nittany Lions now led, 7-0.
Despite picking up a pair of first downs on their next drive, a sack on Tagovailoa dug a hole Maryland couldn’t climb out of. Facing a 4th-and-11, the Terps punted once again, handing the ball back trailing by a touchdown.
Penn State moved the ball on their next drive, making it into Maryland territory once again. On 4th-and-one from the 33, Tyler Warren took a direct snap and was stopped short, prompting a turnover on downs and giving Maryland a chance to even the score.
Tayon Fleet-Davis picked up a first down with a pair of runs, but Maryland’s drive would be short lived. On back-to-back pass attempts, Tagovailoa’s throws were dropped and Maryland once again was forced to punt it away.
Penn State again moved the ball, before ultimately stalling out around midfield, prompting their third punt of the day.
In what seemed to be a growing theme, Maryland’s offense once again picked up a first down, but sputtered after. Tagovailoa was dropped for a loss as he tried to move the sticks on third down, sending out the Terps’ punting unit for the fifth time in the first half.
Penn State would also punt again after coming up short just past the 50, giving Maryland one more shot before the half to even things up.
Maryland came out firing on their next drive. After an incompletion on his first attempt, Tagovailoa completed a pair of throws, both going for first downs. Challen Faamatau picked up three yards before Tagovailoa completed three more throws for first downs. A pass interference call on Penn State’s Keaton Ellis put the ball at the two yard line. Faamatau rumbled his way to paydirt a play later, putting Maryland on the board. Joseph Petrino missed the extra point, leaving Maryland trailing at the half, 7-6.
Coming out of the locker room, Maryland got the ball to start the second half. The Terps worked their way past midfield, but a deflected pass from Tagovailoa on third down ended their first drive after the break. Anthony Pecorella’s punt was downed at the five, where the Nittany Lions took over.
Backed up in front of their own end zone, Penn State orchestrated a methodical scoring drive. The Nittany Lions went 95 yards in 14 plays and 5:43 of game time to add their second score of the day. Clifford again found Dotson, this time for a 21-yard touchdown, bumping their lead to 14-6.
Maryland looked prepared to answer on their next drive, marching deep into Penn State territory. After a couple of passes from Tagovailoa to Rakim Jarrett, the Terps had a second-and-two at the Nittany Lions’ ten. Tagovailoa mishandled the ball, fumbling it right to Ji’Ayir Brown who recovered it and gave Penn State the ball back.
A pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties back the Nittany Lions up after the recovery, and Maryland’s defense forced another three-and-out.
The Terps once again drove deep into Penn State territory, except this time, they finished the job. Driving 52 yards on ten plays, Maryland got the tying score one play into the fourth quarter. Tagovailoa unloaded a pass to Corey Dyches, good for a 13-yard touchdown. Tagovailoa then found a cutting Chig Okonkwo for the two point conversion, tying the game at 14-14.
In an instant, Penn State took the lead back.
On the first down of their next drive, Greg Rose sacked Clifford on first down to put the Nittany Lions behind the sticks. On the very next play, Clifford found Dotson for six for the third time, putting Penn State back in front, 21-14.
Maryland sputtered on offense after two plays on the sideline, giving the ball back once again. Penn State also struggled to sustain a drive, and were forced to punt it back. Jordan Stout shanked the kick towards the Maryland sideline, giving Maryland the ball back at the 50 with another chance to score.
The Terps again picked up one first down before sending away another punt, their 8th of the day, turning things back over to their defense with under eleven minutes to play.
“Defensively, we had some opportunities,” Locksley said. “The thing I like the most about it is that our team continued to give me the effort, and the fight is there.”
Maryland’s defense didn’t surrender a touchdown, but a long possession by the Nittany Lions did end with points. After Clifford and Dotson connected for 45 yards to flip the field, Stout added a 24-yard field goal to make it a 10 point game at 24-14.
The Terps attempted a comeback, but with under three minutes to go, Tagovailoa’s pass attempt was intercepted by Brown, and returned 87 yards for a pick six. What was once a 14-14 ball game, now stood at 31-14.
The final score wasn’t exactly representative of the fight that took place throughout most of the game, but ultimately the defense’s inability to contain Dotson put Maryland in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
“He ran slant routes for about 242 yards against man coverage, where we want to deny inside leverage,” Locksley said. “He’s a big time player who made plays that were available to him.”
With the loss, Maryland drops to 5-4, still chasing bowl eligibility for the first time since 2016. Battling for stretches, Maryland couldn’t outlast the Nittany Lions, and still finds itself searching for consistency across the board on a week-to-week basis as they try to establish themselves in the Big Ten.
“We just continue to make mistakes at the most inopportune times,” Locksley said. “With five opportunities in the red zone, come away with two touchdowns. Turnovers down there, couldn’t get off the field on third down, but we had opportunities.”