Maryland vs. Penn State: Game Grades, Analysis for the Nittany Lions

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistNovember 1, 2014

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg (14) gets a first down on a quarterback sneak during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Maryland in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

For just the second time in 38 meetings, Maryland emerged victorious against Penn State.  The Nittany Lions' woes on offense continued as the running game contributed just 42 yards on 41 carries while Christian Hackenberg struggled through large portions of the game.

In the end, Penn State's offensive malaise was too much for the solid Nittany Lion defense to overcome, and the Terps took advantage late to eke out a 20-19 win.

Box score via

Penn State Game Grades
PositionFirst-Half GradeFinal Grade
Pass OffenseD+D+
Run OffenseD+F
Pass DefenseA-B+
Run DefenseB+A-
Special TeamsA-C+
Nov. 1, 2014

Pass Offense

Christian Hackenberg, with his phenomenal freshman season and fourth-quarter comebacks earlier this season, may have doomed himself to the specter of high expectations.  Some of Hackenberg's youth has been showing as of late, and despite some more glimpses of brilliance, he wasn't able to be steadily effective against a middle-of-the-road Big Ten defense like Maryland's.

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Hackenberg finished 18-of-42 passing for just 117 yards, one touchdown and a very ugly interception that could better be described as an arm punt.

Geno Lewis led all Penn State receivers with just 54 yards on five receptions, while Jesse James added 48 yards and a touchdown on five receptions.

The young offensive line wasn't able to protect Hackenberg at times, and the young quarterback also managed to find the turf with 12 of 13 passes at one point in the third quarter.  If Penn State has any hope of earning a bowl trip this season, both the O-line and Hackenberg will need to find ways to play much better in a very short period of time.

Run Offense

There really isn't any way to sugarcoat the Penn State run game.  It's bad.  It's awful.  It's ugly.

Inexperience on the offensive line combined with injuries in the backfield (Zack Zwinak) have combined for a perfect storm.  Today, that inability to run the football was laid bare as the Lions put up just 42 yards on 41 carries.

Only two ball-carriers ended the day with positive numbers.  Akeel Lynch had 51 yards on 21 carries while Bill Belton added 14 yards on eight carries.

Hackenberg, despite some nice pickups on the ground, finished with negative-22 yards on 11 credited carries (which included nearly a half-dozen sacks).

Pass Defense

Taken all together, the Penn State passing defense's stats don't look too shabby.  C.J. Brown was held to just 161 yards and a touchdown on 18-of-38 passing.

But scratch a little deeper and you'll find a pass defense that was able to disrupt the Maryland passing game early, but wasn't able to cope with the adjustments made by the Terrapins in the second half.

While the lone touchdown given up by the Nittany Lions passing defense came in the first half, most of Maryland's yardage (97 of 161 total yards) and more than half of C.J. Brown's completions came in the second half—when they were needed most.

We can't even consider failing Penn State's pass defense, but we do have to take into account the fact that Brown struggled early, much in the same way Hackenberg did.  Finishing a game giving up only 161 yards and a single touchdown is good enough for a "B+."

Run Defense

As bad as the Penn State running attack was, the run defense was inversely dominant.  Penn State held Maryland to just 33 rushing yards on the day on 31 attempts.  You can do the math on that one to figure out the Terps' average.

Oct 12, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions defensive end Anthony Zettel (98) during the second quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Michigan 43-40 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Har

C.J. Brown was sacked a half-dozen times, helping those numbers, but the Penn State front seven was in the offensive backfield most of the afternoon, disrupting not only Brown's passing ability but any potential run plays, too.

Wes Brown led the Terps with 24 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, and we are tempted to hand out a perfect "A" to the Penn State run defense.


But that all-important second-half touchdown and the fact that Penn State just couldn't stop the 3rd-and-short in the crucial fourth quarter leads us to drop the grade slightly to a still-impressive "A-."

Special Teams

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

It was certainly a mixed bag for the Nittany Lions in terms of special teams play this afternoon.  On one hand, Sam Ficken was his usual solid self, finishing four-for-four on field goals with a long of 48.  But the punting and return games left much to be desired.

Daniel Pasquariello, a true freshman, averaged less than 37 yards on his eight punts, including one that went for just 24 yards and led to a Maryland score early in the game.  Only one of his eight punts was downed inside the 20, and Maryland's William Likely had a solid return of 15 yards in the game's final two minutes to set up the game-winning field goal for the Terps.

Jesse Della Valle averaged just 2.7 yards on his three punt returns, and Penn State turned the ball over on a fumbled kickoff return, just to rub a little unneeded salt into a second half full of self-inflicted wounds.

Despite a strong start, the special teams end up with a "C+" on the day, and we think that's being generous.


We'd love to be able to grade James Franklin and his staff taking into account all of the extenuating circumstances with which they've had to contend this season.  But we can't.  We have to go by what we've seen on the field, and today, that wasn't all that good.

In the first half, Penn State responded to some pregame arrogance and provocations from Maryland with playing beyond the whistle and picking up some unnecessary unsportsmanlike conduct penalties (including two on one play).  The Nittany Lions did settle a bit as the game wore on and managed to take a lead into halftime.

In the second half, however, Penn State wasn't able to properly adjust on offense and inconsistency continued in both the running and passing games.  Maryland's offense also made some mid-game changes, and Penn State couldn't find a way to respond to those adjustments.

Sure, Penn State is a little shorthanded.  Yes, Penn State is playing with fewer than 50 scholarship players on the sideline.  But this was a very winnable game, and Penn State let it get away from them in the second half.

Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

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