PSU dominates Maryland in regular-season finale
McSorley has big day
UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State played like a motivated, emotionally energized team trying to finish strong on senior day. Maryland played like it was merely trying to finish out an emotionally draining season.
Both elements were understandable, and the combination led to a Nittany Lion blowout on a cold, drizzly Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
“This is about as good as it gets getting a big win, finishing out Big Ten the right way,” quarterback Trace McSorley said after No. 15 PSU crushed Maryland, 38-3, before an announced crowd of 98,422 that was actually much smaller because of the bad weather.
McSorley played the final home game of his record-setting career and looked like his healthy self once again after being hobbled by a knee injury in recent weeks.
Penn State’s defense, meanwhile, continued its late-season surge and put together an outstanding day in dominating the Terps.
“We played a complete football game,” PSU coach James Franklin said.
The Nittany Lions finished the regular season 9-3 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten. Now they await their bowl fate and almost certainly will head to a very desirable destination against a high-quality opponent (see notebook on Page B2 for more on that).
As always, senior day produced a lot of emotions for many PSU players, including McSorley. He was doing OK as he ran out of the tunnel … until his saw his mother, Andrea.
“I wasn’t too emotional until I saw my mom, and my mom was like bawling and had tears in her eyes,” McSorley said. “That’s when I kind of got a little emotional.”
It was apparent from the outset Saturday that McSorley looked different. Or, put another way, the same as he used to look.
The quarterback’s running skills had been limited by the right knee injury he suffered against Iowa on Oct. 27, and with him not being as big of a threat to take off, it clearly hurt PSU’s offense. McSorley also had been struggling throwing the ball, as well, because of the knee.
But on PSU’s first play from scrimmage Saturday, McSorley hit KJ Hamler on a 34-yard pass, then Miles Sanders ran for 35 yards on the next play to the Maryland 5. McSorley ran it in himself from 3 yards out two plays later.
Two possessions later, McSorley finished off a scoring drive by running up the middle untouched for a 20-yard TD and 14-3 lead late in the first quarter.
“This is probably the best he’s felt in awhile,” Franklin said of his quarterback.
“I was able to kind of run around a little bit and even threw a block out there at one point,” McSorley said. “At that point, it was just one of those things that I kind of felt like I was back to myself.”
McSorley finished 12-of-22 for 230 yards and one TD through the air, and he ran 11 times for 64 yards and two scores.
Sanders had a big day, rushing for 128 yards on just 14 carries, while Ricky Slade had 64 yards and two TDs on 11 carries.
Penn State led 17-3 at the half and poured it on in the second half, thanks to solid offensive play and a dominating defensive effort.
Maryland came in with a strong running game and rushed for 339 yards in last week’s OT loss to Ohio State. But PSU’s defense stuffed the Terps, holding them to just 74 yards on the ground and 259 total.
The Lions finished with a whopping 15 tackles for loss, including 3 ¢ for defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos.
Franklin mentioned defensive coordinator Brent Pry’s father, Jim, a longtime college coach and Altoona native, was in town and at practice last week. The defense was a question mark earlier in the year, but Brent Pry has worked wonders with the unit, which includes many young players.
“That whole defensive staff, led by Brent Pry, has been fantastic,” Franklin said.
The Terps hit a 48-yard pass on their second series of the game, getting to the PSU 13, but they had to settle for a field goal. They drove deep into Penn State territory early in the fourth quarter and missed a short field goal.
That was the extent of Maryland’s offense on the day. Anthony McFarland, who had 298 yards rushing against Ohio State, was held to 12 yards on only six carries. Quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome was 14-of-23 for 185 yards, but the Terps can’t win having to rely on their passing game that much.
The Lions easily controlled the second half, getting an 8-yard TD run from Slade and 5-yard TD pass from McSorley to tight end Pat Freiermuth to make it 31-3 with 12:24 remaining.
McSorley was in to start PSU’s next possession, but with nine minutes left and things decided, Franklin pulled his quarterback so he could get a senior day sendoff. The crowd obliged with a big ovation as McSorley and Franklin hugged on the sideline.
“A ton of appreciation for the love that the fans were showing at that point,” said McSorley, who added he was, “just trying to take everything in.”
Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens led PSU on its final scoring drive, running 18 yards to the 1 before Slade took it in two plays later.
After the game, the PSU seniors took a victory lap around Beaver Stadium, an idea that came from linebacker Koa Farmer, whose father had done that when he played in college.
“(The seniors are) a group of guys that we just fought hard every single day and worked our butts off to bring this program back and bring it to a spot that can be competing for top championships and being a top level contender every year,” McSorley said.
Getting the blowout win on senior day, therefore, meant a great deal to everyone.
“It was just an overall awesome day,” McSorley said.