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Penn State Football’s Post-Maryland Report Card

Penn State football took one of its worst losses in recent memory to Maryland Saturday afternoon.

The Nittany Lions are 0-3 to open their season for the first time since 2001, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope for James Franklin’s squad with the majority of the season left to play. Penn State’s offense once again looked helpless against the Terps, while Brent Pry’s defense just didn’t play up to expectations.

With yet another brutal performance behind them, the Nittany Lions’ grades aren’t looking too hot.

Quarterbacks: D-

The offense has clearly had its struggles around him, but Sean Clifford did not play well Saturday.

The quarterback threw for 340 yards and three scores but overthrew his favorite targets on several occasions and didn’t look comfortable in the pocket. Clifford finished the afternoon with three ugly turnovers, including a fumble that resulted in a Maryland touchdown.

Penn State’s offensive line struggles are clearly having an effect on the second-year starter. He got sacked for a season-high seven times Saturday and said that the threat of defensive pressure made him “gun-shy” throughout the contest.

Clifford’s struggles to find open receivers came to a head when he took a brutal sack on third down that put Penn State at a 4th and 31. That play summed up Clifford and the rest of the offense’s day pretty well, as touchdowns to Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington were essentially the only positive plays of the day.

Running Backs: F

It’s not fun to give out another F this week, but Penn State’s running backs had absolutely nothing going on Saturday. The fact that Clifford attempted 57 passes should be enough to know that the Nittany Lions had no confidence in their rushing attack.

Devyn Ford led the team with just 36 yards on nine attempts, and he had only two carries go for more than five yards. While Ford had a solid year as a third option for Penn State last fall, he clearly isn’t capable of leading the room without Journey Brown and Noah Cain just yet.

Considering the group couldn’t get going against a Maryland defense that entered the game allowing the second-most yards in the conference, it’s hard to imagine it’ll find much more success the rest of the way.

The pair of freshman runners couldn’t add much value behind Ford. Caziah Holmes had 29 yards on nine attempts, and Keyvone Lee earned just one carry.

Wide Receivers: B-

The narrative for this position group hasn’t changed since last week. Jahan Dotson once again balled out, while Parker Washington played a nice compliment to him.

Dotson led the team with nine catches for 123 yards and even went up for a big grab to earn his fifth touchdown of the season. The junior’s score represented the only points of the first half for Penn State.

Washington also had yet another solid day with eight grabs worth 70 yards and two second-half touchdowns. The freshman continues to develop as a reliable red zone target for Clifford with three scores on the season.

Outside of those two, though, Penn State’s receivers haven’t done a whole lot. Daniel George had two catches on the day, while no other wideouts had any receptions.

Tight Ends: C+

Considering the high expectations surrounding him entering this season, it hasn’t been a fantastic campaign thus far for Pat Freiermuth.

The junior pass-catcher had six catches on the day for 91 yards, but he and Clifford failed to connect on several deep shots throughout the day. Along with that, Freiermuth once again didn’t do anything in the red zone for Penn State. He still has just one touchdown on the season, and Maryland managed to neutralize him once again on opportunities in the end zone.

Redshirt freshman Brenton Strange had two catches on the day worth 22 yards. He has yet to add much value alongside Freiermuth this season.

Offensive Line: F

After a tough night against the Buckeyes, things only got worse for Penn State’s offensive line.

Considering how poor Penn State’s rushing attack was against a simply not good Maryland defense, it was clearly a horrible performance by the big guys up front.

“We weren’t sustaining blocks,” James Franklin said after the game. “We haven’t been able to break tackles and make people miss consistently. There’s not enough respect and concern for the running game right now.”

A lack of protection for Clifford also completely hampered Penn State’s offense. Franklin explained that Maryland didn’t need to “respect” the run and could simply protect against the obvious pass plays called. It’s been a rough season for all of Penn State’s offense, and if things are going to turn around in any way, the offensive line simply needs to hold its own.

Defensive Line: C

Penn State’s defensive line didn’t have a horrible day. It held star running back Jake Funk in check for the most part and sacked Taulia Tagovailoa on three occasions.

Jayson Oweh led the team with ten total tackles, including two for a loss, while PJ Mustipher managed to disrupt Maryland’s offense up the middle on multiple occasions. However, Tagovailoa managed a huge day through the air. While a lot of that blame falls on brutal secondary play, Franklin explained that the unit simply needs to get more pressure on the quarterback to force errant throws.

Shaka Toney didn’t do much of anything off the edge in terms of pressuring Tagovailoa, and his comfort in the pocket led to a massive first half. While the defense did start to make plays in the second half, the hole was already dug for a Nittany Lion squad that couldn’t consistently put up points.

Linebackers: C-

Penn State’s linebackers made some nice plays throughout Saturday’s contest, but missed tackles were the story of the day for this group and the secondary.

Ellis Brooks, Jesse Luketa, and Brandon Smith continue to get to the quarterback from time to time and make plays behind the line of scrimmage, but the group just needs more consistency. Maryland hit on big plays throughout the first half, and Penn State’s front seven didn’t do much to stop them.

The Terps scored four touchdowns in the first half, all of which were on plays of at least 34 yards. Tagovailoa’s wide receivers were able to scamper through the defense thanks to the lack of consistent tackling, including Rakim Jarret, who had two scores on passes over the middle.

While a lot of that scoring is rightfully blamed on the secondary, Penn State’s linebackers weren’t making a lot of the plays they needed to, either.

Secondary: D-

Thanks to the fact that the Nittany Lions limited Maryland to just 57 total yards in the second half, this group’s position didn’t fall into an F.

In the first half, however, Tagovailoa picked apart Penn State’s secondary. He finished the afternoon with 18 completions for 282 yards and three touchdowns, two of those scores coming on those wide-open passes over the middle to Jarret. After hitting on a 42-yard touchdown on their first drive, Tagovailoa found Jarret again for a 62-yard score later in the first quarter.

On both of those plays, Penn State’s secondary was left diving at legs and scorched by Maryland’s speedy wideouts. Jaquan Brisker and the rest of the secondary finally started to break up passes and lockdown those athletes in the second half, but the Terps’ quick 21-0 lead was thanks mainly to the Nittany Lions’ struggles in the secondary.

Maryland’s final touchdown of the first half came on a 34-yard bomb to Dontay Demus. Demus was (wait for it) wide open in the end zone and managed to get behind Penn State’s defense with ease.

That score and the rest of the first-half performance was about as ugly as it can get for the struggling secondary.

Special Teams: C

Nothing special and nothing horrible for the special teams unit against Maryland.

Penn State’s one field goal attempt came on a 49-yarder that Jake Pinegar attempted and missed. Considering Stout is the long-range specialist, the decision to trot Pinegar out there is a head-scratcher, to say the least.

While he didn’t get a chance to try a field goal, Stout did what was asked of him Saturday. All of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, while he averaged 40.5 yards on four punt attempts.

Penn State’s return game didn’t have much of an effect. Devyn Ford had just one kick return of 25 yards, while Parker Washington averaged a pedestrian 21 yards on two attempts. Jahan Dotson had one punt return of 11 yards.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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