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Gameday Observations: Maryland

Penn State found itself in a rare offensive shootout Saturday afternoon in Baltimore against Maryland. Thanks to a 315-yard performance by Christian Hackenberg, and a defense that found its strength late in the game when it was most needed, the Lions earned their first road victory of the year, a 31-30 nail-biter over the Terps.

Played in Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium, Penn State earned bowl eligibility for the second season in a row in front of a largely Nittany Lion-favoring crowd. In light of that, here are our gameday observations from Saturday’s affair:

  • Give Christian Hackenberg some credit. There was a moment sometime in the first half during which Penn State’s coaching staff seemingly called an option play for its junior quarterback. The play failed, quite miserably, and it left Hackenberg unprotected against an aggressive and hungry Maryland defense. Hackenberg was knocked to the ground for what felt like the umpteenth time already in the game, and prompted a Maryland media member to refer to John Donovan’s and James Franklin’s treatment of No. 14 as “negligent homicide.” Slight hyperbole aside, Hackenberg’s taken his fair share of knocks this year, and still managed to toss for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns. He became Penn State’s all-time leading passer in the process. Hackenberg has taken a remarkable amount of criticism, and hits. Following those games, in which a scrum of media members shove microphones into his face prodding him to speak to the criticism, the signal caller has stayed consistently positive and respectful. For that, he deserves some credit.
  • M&T Bank Stadium and its surroundings could use some upgrades, but it’s still a fun place for a game. Perhaps the best example of this is the fact that while media were granted near unlimited access to the field and tunnels before and throughout the game (a privilege not granted in Beaver Stadium), a large portion of the media couldn’t connect to the internet for most of the game. The stadium itself is architecturally intriguing, but unfavorable colors and outdated signs reduce its aesthetic appeal. M&T Bank Stadium is located in the middle of a rollercoaster of winding highways, and we saw tailgates in literal ditches on the side of train tracks and interstates — a far cry from the grassy pastures of Beaver Stadium. I can’t speak for the fan experience, but the Penn State-heavy crowd which nearly filled the entire stadium provided a loud and energetic environment throughout the exciting matchup.
  • Saquon Barkley is human after all. Barkley entered Saturday’s contest averaging more than 190 yards in Big Ten games. He finished Saturday with 20 carries for 65 yards, a far cry from his 7.2 average yards per carry this year. He also fumbled twice, one of which Maryland recovered. In every other game in which he saw significant playing time, he broke a run of at least 33 yards. Saturday’s long was only 10 yards. But it’s only one game, and 65 yards is still no small number — Akeel Lynch didn’t even see one carry against the Terps. He’ll be back at it next weekend.
  • Penn State’s defense is ferocious. There’s no other way to put it. Sure, it might struggle against mobile quarterbacks, but the five turnovers it produced against Maryland were enough to stave off the Perry Hills-led comeback. It’s a unit that plays with heart, and a unit that plays together. It embodies the spirit of Bob Shoop, and it executes that plan to the fullest extent. The team’s been able to rally around its young guns, forming a cohesive unit that, for lack of a better term, gets the job done.
  • Carl Nassib continues to produce. He’s one of the best stories in college football, and with 12 sacks on the year, his draft stock continues to climb. Headlined by Anthony Zettel, Penn State’s defensive line was already a force to be reckoned with, but Nassib gives the line a completely different element. He makes quarterbacks force throws with constant pressure around the end, making life difficult at times for Hills, who was solid but not consistent by any means through the air against the Lions. It seems as though Nassib won’t be letting up any time soon, something that bodes well for 6-2 Penn State.

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