Penn State Drops Fourth Straight, Falls to Maryland 20-19
It keeps getting worse.
Penn State (4-4) dropped its fourth straight game Saturday in Beaver Stadium, a 20-19 heartbreaker to Maryland (6-3). The Terrapins booted a 43-yard field goal with under a minute to go. Penn State could not provide any late game heroics, and a Christian Hackenberg fumble on the ensuing possession effectively ended the game.
It was Maryland’s first victory in Beaver Stadium, and only its second over the Nittany Lions in 38 meetings.
How it Happened:
Sam Ficken was the hero of the first half.
The senior placekicker booted all three of his field goal attempts (47, 25, 46 yards) through the uprights to salvage an otherwise ugly thirty minutes and give Penn State a 9-7 halftime lead.
Christian Hackenberg, behind an offensive line without Donovan Smith, went 8-21 for 74 yards, an interception, a fumble, and was sacked thrice in the first thirty minutes. James Franklin suggested Miles Dieffenbach might see the field for the first time this season, but he was not dressed to play.
Hackenberg finished 18-42 for 177 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
After Ficken got Penn State on the board with his first field goal, Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown found P.J. Gallo in the back of the endzone from two-yards away. The drive began at the Nittany Lions 43, the result of a 24-yard Penn State punt, one of several weak boots on the day. An unnecessary late hit by Marcus Allen in the red zone continued Maryland’s drive when it should have ended.
“We’re having an issue playing field position games,” said Franklin after the game. “[We’re] having a hard time switching the field on special teams.”
Hackenberg did start the game 4-4, but at one point in the third quarter he was 4-18 since that point. Maryland’s supposedly dynamic dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown was also underwhelming, constantly stifled by the Nittany Lions impressive defensive.
Akeel Lynch, who earned his first started, was one of the few bright spots, rushing for 43 yards in the half. However, he only picked up eight yards the rest of the game.
The break didn’t seem to spark either team’s languid offense, as all four of the second half’s first drives ended in three and outs.
But on a second down from Penn State’s 41, Anthony Zettel forced a fumble that was recovered by C.J. Olaniyan. Starting at midfield, the Nittany Lions marched into the red zone. And on third down from the eight yard line, Hackenberg found tight end Jesse James in the end zone. It was Penn State’s first touchdown of the game, and put the Lions ahead 16-7.
The eight play, 51-yard drive was by far Penn State’s best to that point.
Maryland opened the final quarter with a promising drive. It stalled, however, when a halfback toss from the one was fumbled. The Terrapins were forced to settle for a field goal, bring their deficit to 16-10.
And then, on the ensuing kickoff, Grant Haley fumbled, and Maryland recovered at Penn State’s 24. Four plays later the Terrapins were in the endzone, thanks to a one-yard Wes Brown run. In under two minutes, Maryland scored ten points, and took a 17-16 lead.
But Ficken bailed out the Lions again. Hackenberg found Geno Lewis on third and 23 for 33 yards to Maryland’s 32. Penn State failed to find the endzone, but Ficken nailed his fourth field goal of the game, this time from 48 yards, to regain a 19-17 lead.
Maryland could not respond on the next drive: a Marcus Allen sack on third down forced Maryland to punt with under four minutes to play. But Penn State could not make them pay, and another poor punt found Maryland with the ball once more, with 2:16 to play at Penn State’s 42. And on fourth and six, Maryland’s 43-yard field goal attempt sailed through the updates, as the Terrapins took a 20-19 lead.
Penn State wasn’t able to mount a final scoring drive, instead fumbled a fourth and one that resulted in a turnover on downs.
Players of the game:
Sam Ficken salvaged what could have been an even uglier loss for Penn State, as the senior place kicker went 4-4 including kicks from 47, 25, 46, and a 48-yard boot with 6:52 left to play in the fourth quarter that gave Penn State a 19-17 lead.
“He’s been playing extremely well,” Franklin said. “He’s an example of a guy who’s done everything right both on and off the field.”
After Zach Zwinak suffered a season-ending injury against Ohio State, Akeel Lynch entered Saturday’s game hoping to see a more prominent role in the offense. The sophomore ball-carrier started the game and had a career-high 21 carries for 51 yards, possibly solidifying his place as the team’s leading runner. Franklin said that the plan was to rotate Lynch and Belton, but Lynch was “more decisive” and therefore got more carries.
Penn State travels to Bloomington next weekend for a noon kickoff against Indiana. In a rainy, depressing game last year, the Nittany Lions fell to the Hoosiers, 44-24.
Quote of the Game:
Ever the optimist, Franklin praised his teams resolve, and assured the media that his Nittany Lions will prevail through this losing streak.
“Tough times don’t last,” he said. “Tough people do.”