Penn State avoids trap, routs Maryland
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Penn State embarrassed Maryland. Again.
Maryland embarrassed itself, as well, in what folks in these parts were calling the program’s biggest game in years.
It wasn’t a game. At all.
It was a laugher.
For the third straight year.
Sean Clifford had a huge game with 398 yards passing, Penn State’s defense was terrific and the No. 12 Nittany Lions made road kill of the Terps in a 59-0 win Friday night at Maryland Stadium.
“We played a really good team, and our guys competed like crazy,” PSU coach James Franklin said on TV after the game.
In the past three meetings, Penn State has outscored Maryland, 163-6.
That’s not a misprint.
The final scores have been 66-3 (on the road in 2017), 38-3 (at home in 2018) and Friday night’s fiasco, which was Penn State’s first shutout of the Terps since 1970.
Maryland isn’t some FCS program like Idaho, so the lopsided scores over the past three years are downright staggering.
The Terps were only 6.5-point underdogs coming into Friday’s contest.
This had trap game written all over it for Penn State.
Many PSU fans were expressing on social media how they were very worried about the game.
Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) humiliated the Terps (2-2, 0-1) on their home turf for the second consecutive visit.
Clifford, making the first road start of his career, opened the game going 9-for-9 for 166 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions found the end zone on their first four possessions, plus they intercepted Maryland on two of its first three possessions.
The score was 38-0 at the half, and while it was a road game, roughly one-third of the 53,228 fans were Penn State faithful.
The Maryland fans on hand had to be demoralized by what they saw.
The Terps looked disheveled from the outset. They not only were outmanned on both sides of the ball, they committed one costly penalty after another, looking like a team that simply was not ready to play this caliber of opponent on such a big stage.
Maryland had already piled up eight penalties for 70 yards with 9:45 left in the first half. Several of those penalties were of the inexcusable variety, such as having 12 men on the field when Penn State was attempting the PAT following its second touchdown.
Prior to kickoff, longtime Maryland radio announcer Johnny Holliday claimed on the pregame broadcast, “You can’t put into words how big a game this is for Maryland.”
The series between these teams is incredibly lopsided, with Penn State now holding a 40-2-1 advantage.
The two programs recruit many of the same players, and the Terps could badly use some wins or even good showings against PSU to show their program is heading in the right direction.
Friday night’s game, and the past three meetings, show that’s nowhere near the case.
Going into the game, though, Maryland appeared to have some hope.
Coach Mike Locksley’s team won its opener over Howard, 79-0, then clobbered Syracuse, 63-20. A 20-17 loss at Temple brought the Terps back down to earth, but coming off a bye, Maryland had hoped to build some momentum by finally proving it could compete with Penn State.
That never happened.
Clifford was sensational from the outset and finished 26-of-31 for 398 yards, two TDs and one interception. He set the PSU record for passing yards in the first half with 287.
“He was on fire,” Franklin told the media after the game.
Clifford also did damage with his feet. He scored the Lions’ first touchdown on an 8-yard keeper on the first series. He later had a 25-yard scramble and finished with a team-high 54 yards rushing, giving him 452 yards of total offense.
“I’m really pleased with how calm, poised and composed he was,” Franklin said of Clifford. “He played really well on the road in the Big Ten against a good opponent.”
KJ Hamler turned in the highlight of the night for the Lions. On their second series, Clifford hit Hamler for an 8-yard gain that the receiver turned into a 58-yard TD by juking his way past a defender with fancy footwork.
Maryland threatened on the ensuing series, with quarterback Josh Jackson driving the Terps to the PSU 11. But Jackson threw a bad interception in the end zone, picked off by Tariq Castro-Fields, and the Lions proceeded to drive 95 yards for another touchdown and 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Penn State’s defense dominated the rest of the night and held Maryland to 128 yards of total offense.
The Lions, meanwhile, piled up 619 yards, including 198 on the ground between Clifford and the four-man running back rotation.
Clifford played a few series in the second half and hit Nick Bowers for a 55-yard catch and run that set up a touchdown.
Backup quarterback Will Levis then came on for the final 20 minutes and led two fourth-quarter scoring drives. Levis scored himself on both drives, from 5 and 8 yards, the latter with 49 seconds left to play.