Christian Hackenberg, PSU receivers lead Lions to avenging win vs. Maryland
Final: Penn State 31, Maryland 30
Key play: Malik Golden intercepts tipped ball in final minute
Down one in the final 75 seconds, Perry Hills had hopes of leading the Terps on a go-ahead touchdown drive to stun the Lions again. Instead, he overthrew his man for Maryland’s 20th interception of the year. In a game in which both teams seemed intent on giving the game away in the fourth quarter, it fittingly came to a close on a turnover. Until the Terps shed their turnover woes, they won’t get over the hump.
Telling stat: Christian Hackenberg completes 13 passes…for 315 yards
The junior quarterback has been the subject of plenty of criticism for his lack of confidence in the pocket. On Saturday, the third-year starter was calm, cool and collected. He made some huge throws downfield and the Lions receivers made some incredible adjustments on the ball. Chris Godwin made adjustment after adjustment, as did DaeSean Hamilton, who hauled in a pretty back-shoulder throw for a fourth-quarter score. The Lions receiving core hadn’t played like the group it was hyped up to be. But against a talented Terps secondary, they were on the same page as Hackenberg, who became the program’s all-time passing leader. Oh, and Hackenberg was supposed to be dealing with a knee injury. He looked pretty healthy in the second half.
-Saquon Barkley played a freshman game
The Penn State tailback might be the freshman of the year in the B1G. Well, he looked more like a freshman than a player of the year against Maryland. Barkley fumbled twice in the first half and received a benching from James Franklin. He did get into the end zone, but the big-play machine’s longest run of the day was just 10 yards. Credit Yannick Ngakoue and the Terps for containing Barkley. Interesting was the fact that Brandon Polk and Nick Scott still only got one carry. Barkley’s benching was short-lived. Franklin showed confidence in letting the freshman get some confidence back.
-Maryland continued Penn State’s run defense issues
Surprising was the fact that for the second week in a row, the Lions struggled to contain the run. Once one of the top units in the country, Penn State has shown weaknesses against mobile quarterbacks in each of the last two weeks. Hills racked up 124 yards while Brandon Ross broke off nearly six yards per carry. The Lions were extremely turnover-reliant on Saturday, which isn’t necessarily the formula that usually keeps the Lions in games. Forcing five turnovers is nothing to scoff at, but this unit allowed 470 yards to one of the conference’s weakest offenses. Franklin knows that can’t continue.
What it means: Penn State is bowl eligible, Maryland hasn’t given up on Mike Locksley
The Lions were a trendy preseason pick to be the conference’s most improved team. There have been plenty of frustrating moments, but the Lions have already equaled last year’s regular-season win total through eight weeks. This team is setting itself up for an eight or nine-win season. Maryland, on the other hand, is more in the business of moral victories at this point. It would’ve been quite the statement to knock off the Lions again in Locksley’s first game as interim coach. Instead, the same issues that plagued the end of the Randy Edsall era surfaced on Saturday. The road doesn’t get any easier, either. Games against Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State will make for a battle-tested three-week stretch for Locksley and the Terps.