Dropping the ball dooms the Terps
Five turnovers spoil debut of Locksley
PENN STATE 31, MARYLAND 30
baltimore — Maryland interim coach Mike Locksley simply wanted his team to play football with joy Saturday, as if they were children learning the game in the back yard. But by the time Perry Hills threw an interception in the final minute to seal the Terrapins’ fate in an emotionally draining 31-30 loss to Penn State at M&T Bank Stadium, Locksley and his players again were reminded of the harsh realities of college football.
In the 13 days since Randy Edsall was fired, Maryland exhausted itself in preparation for Saturday’s game against the Nittany Lions. Everything seemed different Saturday. With new scenery at a rocking NFL stadium and players wearing new throwback uniforms, the program looked rejuvenated for stretches under Locksley. His players jumped on the benches and waved T-shirts on the sideline throughout the day, while the home crowd roared for the first time in weeks.
But Maryland experienced a number of the same systematic breakdowns on the field, commit--
ting five turnovers and struggling to defend Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who threw for a season-high 315 yards and three touchdowns on just 13 completions. And in the end, the same gut-wrenching feeling returned for Maryland in a fourth straight loss.
“Lots of guys in there are pretty hurt because we think it’s a game that we really wanted,” Locksley said. “We didn’t do the things to take it.”
Hills finished 19-for-28 passing for 225 yards and one touchdown, adding 124 yards and another score on the ground as Maryland (2-5, 0-3 Big Ten) stayed close in a contest for the first time in more than a month. But he also threw three interceptions, including two on the team’s final two drives.
The first half was defined by missed opportunities for Maryland’s offense, which was revamped by Locksley earlier this week to maximize the running ability of Hills. There was an innovative quality to the offense Saturday, including designed zone-read plays for fullback-turned-quarterback Shane Cockerille and a series of touches for defensive back Will Likely.
“I saw a different team today. There was a lot more energy and focus. Everybody noticed it,” Maryland running back Brandon Ross said.
But Maryland squandered two scoring opportunities with turnovers deep inside Penn State territory on its first two drives, including a Hills fumble. Its standout senior place kicker, Brad Craddock, missed a 51-yard field goal. Maryland also had a third and goal at the Penn State 2-yard line in the middle of the second quarter, but Wes Brown bobbled an option pitch and Maryland settled for a short field goal and a 13-7 lead that could have been larger.
With Maryland trailing 17-13 in the third quarter, Locksley fumed as Hills was forced to use a timeout to avoid a delay-of-game penalty on a third and 10 at the Penn State 10-yard line. Then Locksley devised maybe his riskiest play-call of the afternoon — a draw to Ross.
It paid off. Ross cut back and beat the Nittany Lions’ defense with a 10- yard scoring run to make it 20-17.
But Hackenberg, who attempted just 13 passes in last week’s loss to Ohio State, continued to burn Maryland’s secondary on the ensuing possession. After hitting Chris Godwin for a 31-yard gain over the middle, the junior hit DaeSean Hamilton for a 20-yard touchdown pass two plays later as Penn State retook the lead.
“He’s a great quarterback. You have to give it to him,” said Maryland defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who had two sacks.
Unlike last year’s slugfest in Happy Valley, a 20-19 Maryland win that marked the school’s first victory over the Nittany Lions since 1961, Saturday’s game was a shootout. Hills engineered a 10play, 88-yard drive on the ensuing possession, capped by 10-yard touchdown throw to junior DeAndre Lane late in the third quarter.
Hackenberg hit Geno Lewis for a 27-yard touchdown pass over Maryland cornerback Sean Davis that gave the Nittany Lions (6-2, 3-1) a 31-27 lead to open the fourth quarter. After Maryland settled for a 29-yard Craddock field goal on the next drive, it came up with a fumble recovery on the ensuing kickoff. But Hills fumbled on the next play, and Penn State returned the turnover to the Maryland 28yard line, forcing the Terrapins’ defense into its most vulnerable position of the afternoon. The unit held, and Penn State’s Joey Julius missed a 45-yard field goal try.
“We had opportunities to take control of the game,” Hills said.
Locksley vowed his team would play as if it had nothing to lose, and he proved it midway through the fourth quarter. Maryland elected to go for it on fourth and two from its 36-yard line a few moments later — but Hills had no one open after a play-action fake. His desperation heave was picked off at the Penn State 37-yard line. Hills had another chance after Maryland recovered a Hackenberg fumble near midfield, but the junior quarterback couldn’t convert on fourth and 10 at the Penn State 45-yard line with just over three minutes remaining.
Penn State punted with 1 minutes 21 seconds left, but Hills was picked off a final time after his throw over the middle to Lane was tipped. Locksley finally surrendered at that point, removing his headset and staring across the field as the Nittany Lions celebrated.
“We’re way beyond moral victories,” he said. “Today we didn’t take care of our business.”
Perry Hills finished 19 for 28 for 225 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Penn State’s Brandon Bell causes Maryland quarterback Perry Hills to fumble in the fourth quarter.