Taulia Tagovailoa dropped back in the pocket on a crucial third down, looked past the pass rush and calmly found Rakim Jarrett open over the middle of the field. The Maryland quarterback hit his true freshman receiver in stride, and Jarrett breezed past Penn State defenders on his 42-yard sprint to the end zone. His first career touchdown opened the scoring Nov. 7, and it might have signaled a turning point for the Terrapin program.
Before that catch and run, Maryland’s last touchdown against Penn State came in October 2016. The Terps hadn’t found the end zone in 14 quarters against the Nittany Lions. Penn State had won the last three meetings by an aggregate score of 163-6, including a 59-0 massacre last fall. And this was merely an exclamation point on a long-term trend; Maryland hadn’t won the matchup since 2014 and trailed the all-time series 40-2-1.
This day, though, belonged to Maryland. The Terps throttled Penn State, 35-19, to improve to 2-1 in the 2020 season and drop the Nittany Lions to 0-3.
Tagovailoa led the way, completing 18 of 26 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Jarrett hauled in five passes for 144 yards and two scores, all in the first half. And the Maryland defense, which spent the first two weeks of the season being consistently gashed, flustered the Nittany Lions’ offense all night long. The Terps jumped out to a 21-0 lead and never let Penn State back in it.
Jarrett followed his 42-yard score on the game’s opening possession with a 62-yard burst later in the first quarter, once again on a slant over the middle. Maryland extended the lead in the second period as Jake Funk broke free for a 38-yard rushing touchdown, and after Penn State found the end zone for the first time, Tagovailoa delivered a 34-yard strike to Dontay Demus just before halftime, giving Maryland a 28-7 lead at intermission. The defense joined the party in the third quarter, forcing a fumble that Chance Campbell recovered and returned for a 30-yard touchdown. That 35-7 lead held up through three quarters, and Penn State’s two scores in the fourth weren’t nearly enough.
Here’s what stood out most on an exceptional day for the Terps:
1. Taulia Tagovailoa delivered another brilliant performance.
On Oct. 30, the sophomore became the first Maryland quarterback to amass 300 passing yards in a game since 2013 when he threw for 394 against Minnesota. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more in the Terps’ overtime win, earning him a share of Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors.
He might have been even more impressive in the first half of this one. Tagovailoa completed 14 of his 19 first-half passes for 246 yards and three scores. He not only made the routine plays but delivered several throws only a handful of quarterbacks can make at this level. He kept his poise on pivotal plays, throwing all three of his touchdowns on third down (Maryland converted 9-of-16 third downs overall). Discounting three sacks, Tagovailoa also ran for 36 yards on four scrambles.
“You’re seeing him become a better player each day,” said Demus, who finished with six catches, 86 yards and a touchdown. “He puts in the work … every day and night, just trying to do what he can to help us move forward. I feel like if he keeps doing this, he’s gonna be one of the best players ever.”
2. The defense was imposing all night.
This unit spent the first two weeks of the season getting gashed. Maryland allowed 43 points and 537 yards to Northwestern, then surrendered 38 points to Minnesota in the first three quarters Oct. 30. The fourth quarter against the Golden Gophers, in which the Terps forced three punts to enable a 17-point comeback, gave reason for optimism, but nobody could have reasonably expected this performance.
It all started up front, as Maryland’s defense won the line of scrimmage and flustered Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford all night. The Terps tallied seven sacks after recording just one in the first two games. Clifford went 27-of-57, with most of his 340 yards and two of his three touchdown passes coming late in the blowout. Penn State’s running backs combined for just 67 yards on 19 carries, and Clifford’s effective scrambles were negated by sacks (he had 83 yards on 10 non-sack rushes, but officially just 26 yards on 17 carries).
The Terps’ secondary impressed as well. Sophomore safety Nick Cross recorded an interception, two pass breakups and eight total tackles. Fellow safeties Jordan Mosley and Antwaine Richardson turned in strong outings, as did freshman cornerback Tarheeb Still. Penn State’s top weapons — wideouts Jahan Datson and Parker Washington and tight end Pat Freiermuth — put up numbers eventually, but Maryland silenced the Nittany Lions long enough for a commanding win.
“Our game plan was to make Sean Clifford beat us throwing the football,” head coach Michael Locksley said. “Obviously we’ve had our issues stopping the run. We committed to playing man coverage, we committed to loading the box, we committed to challenging their young receivers out on the perimeter with our young DBs. … Great job by [defensive coordinator] Jon Hoke and the defensive staff of executing the game plan that we wanted to execute.”
3. Maryland’s top rookies flashed their star power.
Jarrett wasn’t just the headliner of Maryland’s 2020 recruiting class; the five-star prospect was the Terps’ highest-rated signee since Stefon Diggs in 2012. After a quiet debut at Northwestern and a six-catch, 68-yard outing against Minnesota, Jarrett was the offensive co-star in this game. His two first-quarter touchdowns set the tone, and he became the first Terps true freshman since Diggs (of course) to amass 100 receiving yards and two scores in a game.
Perhaps as impressive was linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II, the highest-rated defensive prospect in the Terps’ rookie class. Hyppolite brought down Clifford for two sacks in the second half and finished with seven total tackles, second-most on the team. Hyppolite hasn’t been a starter this year, but he’s made the most of his opportunities lately, showing what he can bring to the defense for several years to come.
This was also the first career start for Still, who’s been perhaps Maryland’s top cornerback as a true freshman. Rookie running backs Peny Boone and Isaiah Jacobs received a larger share of the carries, combining for 34 yards on 10 attempts in relief of Funk (who had 80 yards and a score on 16 totes). JuCo newcomers made an impact on defense as well, headlined by Mosiah Nasili-Kite’s two sacks.
4. Even the punting was impressive.
Maryland punted seven times — five in the second half — including three times well into Penn State territory. But sophomore Anthony Pecorella helped make those positive plays for the Terps. He pinned Penn State inside its 20-yard line on four of his six boots. In the third quarter, he had consecutive punts downed at the 1 and the 2 by sophomore Deonte Banks. Pecorella averaged just 37.3 yards per punt, but made the yards count.
Fellow sophomore punter Colton Spangler, who split duties with Pecorella last season, punted once in the second quarter as Maryland opted not to try a fourth-and-7 from the Penn State 41. He did his job as well, sending the ball 30 yards to pin Penn State at its 11.
5. The Big Ten is as upside down as ever.
It feels like it’s been the same story since the dawn of time. The league’s East division has featured a divide between the powerhouses (Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan) and the proletariat (Maryland, Indiana and Rutgers, plus Michigan State lately). The Terps were 0-15 against the big three since 2015, with a few close calls scattered in a sea of blowouts. This game was a complete and total reversal of that script.
Maryland is now 2-1. Penn State is 0-3. Elsewhere in the league, Indiana handled Michigan to improve to 3-0 and knock the Wolverines to 1-2. Rutgers has a win. So does Michigan State. And now the division standings look like this:
Ohio State remains the death star, and the No. 3 Buckeyes will visit College Park next weekend. The Terps should still be significant underdogs in that game. But this contest wasn’t supposed to be close, either — Penn State was favored by 27.5 and Maryland won by 16. No matter what happens the rest of this fall, Terps fans will have something to be happy about.
“We’re still in the growth phase as a program,” Locksley said. “Every day, we’re teaching, we’re coaching, we’re recruiting, we’re trying to do everything we possibly can to build this thing on some really strong foundations so we can sustain some success here. … I still think we haven’t played our best football just yet.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics