Penn State went into Maryland Stadium Friday night and trounced the Terps on their home field. The Nittany Lions got up early and never looked back, defeating the Terps, 59-0.
Let’s look at three takeaways from the Nittany Lions’ dominant effort in their first Big Ten game of the season.
1. K.J. Hamler needed to get the ball more, and he got it
Penn State head coach James Franklin said in his Tuesday afternoon press conference that redshirt sophomore K.J. Hamler needed to get the ball more, and that’s exactly what happened in Friday night’s game. Hamler scored the Nittany Lions second touchdown of the game on a simple slant route that he caught near midfield. The wide receiver took over from there, making defenders miss and finding his way into the end zone for a 58-yard touchdown reception.
The shifty wide receiver made another play for an 18-yard reception on a pass he caught at the line of scrimmage to spark the momentum on a 95-yard Penn State scoring drive. Hamler saw targets near the line of scrimmage whenever he was in the game, putting him in excellent position to make plays with his shiftiness in the open field. He finished the game with six receptions for 108 yards and one touchdown on eight targets.
2. The Nittany Lion defense wins the turnover battle early
Penn State turned the game early with two takeaways in the first quarter. The offense finished both ensuing drives with touchdowns and never looked back. They got it started with a Jan Johnson interception that led to the game’s opening score on an 8-yard touchdown. Maryland starting quarterback Josh Jackson tried to get the pass over Johnson’s head, but the redshirt senior linebacker reached over his head to snag the ball and get the ball to the Maryland 32-yard line. The Terrapins committed two penalties on the play, one an illegal low block and the other a late hit, to push Penn State down to the 8-yard line.
The second interception by the Nittany Lions came on the Terps’ third drive of the game. They drove all the way down to the Penn State 11-yard line before Jackson once again turned the ball over. The Maryland quarterback threw the ball right to cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields, who brought the ball out to his own 5-yard line. The Nittany Lions capitalized once again, this time with an 11-play, 95-yard drive to build the Penn State lead to 21, which proved to be more than enough for the away team.
3. The Penn State defensive line is struggling to rush the passer
For all of the good from Penn State in Friday night’s win, there was some bad. The Nittany Lions’ pass rush was relatively non-existent against the Terps. They only managed to get to the quarterback in the first half when linebacker Ellis Brooks took down Maryland’s Josh Jackson for an 8-yard loss in the second quarter. After the first half, the game was in hand and backups were in for both teams on both sides of the ball.
The lack of a pass rush when the team only rushes four defenders hasn’t hurt the team thus far, but it’s still a concern that the projected strength of the team hasn’t been a strength at all through four games. Of Penn State’s 11 sacks entering the game, eight came from defensive linemen. Of those eight, six came against the Idaho Vandals in the season-opening 79-7 win. The line didn’t do much to quell those concerns in College Park, only tallying 1.5 sacks in the game. Even those 1.5 came in the second half from freshman defensive end Adisa Isaac with the game well in hand. Without a consistent pass rush from the team’s defensive line, the Nittany Lions could be forced to blitz more, leaving the back seven vulnerable. That will be more of an issue when Penn State takes on teams that can throw the ball well, beginning next week with Purdue in Beaver Stadium.