Penn State’s 66 points scored in Saturday’s thumping of Maryland is a program record as a Big Ten school. Tommy Stevens had four scores, Trace McSorley tallied three in less than three quarters, and Saquon Barkley quietly found the end zone twice.
The Nittany Lions’ balanced offense — 286 rushing yards, 248 through the air and points on 10 of 14 drives — was impressive. Most impressive.
But Penn State’s defensive effort at Maryland Stadium was overlooked.
Maybe it’s easy to dismiss the Nittany Lions shutting down the Terps. They’re on their third-string quarterback, after all, and managed only 12.5 points per game against six other teams currently or previously ranked in the College Football Playoff poll.
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But Penn State nearly pitching a shutout should be recognized for what it is: A commanding feat, one in which the Nittany Lions showed up when they needed to most.
Maryland was stopped three times on fourth-and-short near midfield or in Penn State territory. Jason Cabinda dragged Jake Funk — who needed one yard — to the turf in the first quarter; in the second quarter, senior Grant Haley perfectly timed a corner blitz to sack Max Bortenschlager on fourth-and-4 at Penn State’s 31; and Maryland back Lorenzo Harrison was stopped by Troy Apke and Kevin Givens for no gain on a fourth-and-1 rush on Penn State’s 27 in the third.
If Cabinda doesn’t stop Funk in the first quarter, maybe Maryland cuts into Penn State’s 14-0 lead and makes things interesting early. If the Terps settled for field goals in the other two situations, the score would look slightly — ever so slightly — more respectable.
But Maryland wanted and needed touchdowns, and Penn State wasn’t having any of it.
“The fourth-down stops were huge,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen three fourth-down stops like that in short-yardage situations. You kind of put them in the turnover category in some ways.”
▪ Mike Gesicki is making his Mackey Award push — and with a one-handed touchdown grab, the finalist might’ve sealed the honor.
On his second scoring snag of the evening, Gesicki found space in the back of the south end zone, and McSorley extended the play. The quarterback gave him a chance, putting up a nine-yard pass in the back corner.
“It was out there a little bit, so I wasn’t sure I could make it with two hands,” Gesicki said with a smile. So he used one. That’s all he needed anyway.
The sure-handed senior secured the catch with his right hand, clinching his fourth multi-touchdown game of the season.
Gesicki’s nine scores and 51 receptions lead all Penn State pass-catchers. With his fifth straight game of four catches or more, Gesicki positioned himself well for the Mackey Award, which is announced next week.
▪ One pretty cool moment was brothers Zech and Josh McPhearson combining on a special teams turnover.
After Penn State went up 38-0 in the third quarter, Josh McPhearson forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, while Zech McPhearson scooped it up.
The siblings are from Maryland, too, adding to the uniqueness of the play.
▪ Man, Shareef Miller can fly.
The redshirt sophomore defensive end, known more for getting after quarterbacks, nearly caught Harrison 50 yards downfield. On the back’s 54-yard run, it was Lamont Wade who made the stop. But Miller — who stands at 6-foot-5, 257 pounds — was at the line of scrimmage when Harrison was already 10 yards downfield.
Incredible effort by the defensive lineman.
▪ Maryland wide receiver DJ Moore had himself a day with eight catches for 100 yards — and his longest reception came against Nittany Lion cornerback Christian Campbell.
On a 32-yard double move down the Penn State sideline, Moore and a pump fake by Bortenschlager made Campbell bite hard. The quarterback put it up, and Moore went and got it with relative ease.
Campbell was actually in coverage on four of Moore’s first six catches.
It’s not something to dwell too much on; Moore — one of the best receivers in Maryland history — will be playing on Sundays. But not a great showing by Campbell.
▪ When a team wins by 63, there can’t be much that’s considered ugly, so this is being a bit nit-picky. But Irvin Charles’ two drops should be addressed.
Charles dropped a wide-open, would-be 15-yard gain in the second quarter and couldn’t bring in a fourth-quarter, unguarded grab on a drag route.
Charles — who dropped a pair of balls in last year’s Big Ten title game — has three catches in the past two years. One of them changed Penn State’s 2016 season, an 80-yard score that ignited the Nittany Lions against Minnesota.
Charles, a former four-star prospect, has the talent. He possesses game-breaking ability. Now, it’s a matter of fighting through a funk and finding it.