In front of a sparse crowd speckled with white, Penn State — known for its 14-game home winning streak — made Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium feel like Happy Valley.
The No. 10 Nittany Lions routed the Terrapins 66-3 on Saturday night, wrapping up a 10-2 regular season. It’s the first time since 2008 and 2009 that Penn State recorded back-to-back campaigns with double-digit wins.
The Nittany Lions clinched it with ease at Maryland, building a 31-0 halftime advantage and then adding to it after the break. The blowout was so safe that backup quarterback Tommy Stevens entered the game with 5:47 left in the third quarter.
Penn State outgained the Terrapins 534-303.
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Player of the game
Trace McSorley: In two-and-a-half quarters of work, McSorley was impressive.
The redshirt junior quarterback had little problem slicing up Maryland’s defense — completing 22 of 33 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns. McSorley feasted on the Terrapins’ soft zone early, finding gaps in the intermediate passing game. He also accounted for six “explosive plays” — completions of 15 yards or more.
On the ground, McSorley was effective, too. He made a weaving 22-yard first-half run look easy and blasted through a Maryland defender for a five-yard touchdown run.
McSorley could’ve had more than 273 total yards, but he got the job done in a little under 40 minutes of action.
Cabinda’s stop: With less than two minutes to go in the first quarter, Maryland needed something — and it got nothing.
The Terrapins were down 14-0 when they went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 44-yard line. Their previous drives ended in punts from their own 36- and 14-yard lines, and Penn State’s offense was clicking. Maryland was desperate for a spark.
But on a quick handoff to running back Jake Funk, Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda was there to make the stop. The senior filled the hole swiftly and dragged Funk down inches short.
The fallout? An easy touchdown drive for Penn State to put the Nittany Lions up 21-0.
Now, if Maryland converts on that fourth down, it could’ve been a different game. Maybe not the difference between a win or a loss, but if Funk beats Cabinda for the yard, perhaps it leads to a score and close affair throughout the first half. Maybe some doubt creeps in.
But, thankfully for Penn State, Cabinda was there.
Grant Haley: The senior cornerback has maybe been underrated this season — but he made his presence felt Saturday night.
Haley tallied three tackles, one sack and a pass breakup.
Maryland quarterback Max Bortenschlager threw deep in Haley’s direction in the first quarter, and the corner denied him. From that point on, Bortenschlager stayed away from Haley for the most part.
Fake reverse: During pregame, photographers spotted Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead sitting on a flight of steps near the field, browsing Maryland’s game program and blowing bubbles with chewing gum.
Moorhead looked calm, cool and confident — and it showed. The master button-pusher dialed up a perfect play for Penn State’s first touchdown.
In the two-quarterback package, Stevens secured a handoff from McSorley, running right toward the Maryland sideline. Saquon Barkley looped around Stevens and drew the eyes of Terp defenders. Stevens faked the reverse pitch — freezing the Maryland defense — and scampered 21 yards for an untouched score, his fourth touchdown of the year.
It was a brilliant call by Moorhead, knowing Maryland would key in on Barkley in that area of the field.
Well done by the bubble-blowing coordinator.
The postseason: Penn State isn’t going to the Big Ten championship game or the College Football Playoff. The former is already set in stone, and the latter is a pipe dream at this point.
But now the Nittany Lions have a month-and-change off until a likely New Year’s Six bowl game. Whether it’s the Orange, Cotton or Fiesta Bowl, that’s still up in the air. With a few chips falling their way on conference championship weekend, the Nittany Lions could be heading for Miami.
But either way, it will be a long time from now to when Penn State squares off with a non-playoff power. In the meantime, kick back, relax and watch the conference title games next weekend.