Penn State Ruins Maryland’s Friday Night Lights in 59-0 Defeat of Terrapins
COLLEGE PARK, Md.— On a day when the University of Maryland cancelled class, few students headed home for the three-day weekend and instead chose to attend a sold-out Friday night showdown with Penn State. The football team consisted of the only students on campus who got the memo to stay away from Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium.
The twelfth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions steamrolled the Maryland Terrapins 59-0 in the sixth-most attended football game in Maryland football history. A stout defense led by linebacker Jan Johnson and cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields, who each finished with an interception, provided huge contributions towards the shutout.
The defensive unit was without linebacker Micah Parsons for nearly the entire game as well, since he was ejected for targeting in the first quarter. Yet, in many ways, it was the offense that stole the spotlight.
“I really thought that the way we practiced with the noise that our guys were so comfortable that I actually think that the energy in the stadium they fed off of,” head coach James Franklin said, referencing the team’s practices with crowd noise filtered in for the offense. “It’s one thing for a young team to play well at home, it’s another to play well on the road.”
Quarterback Sean Clifford would finish the night with the third-most passing yards in a game in school history, eclipsed only by Christian Hackenberg against the University of Central Florida and Trace McSorley against Georgia State. Clifford, who threw for 398 yards and three touchdowns, displayed pinpoint accuracy all night by completing 26 of 31 passes.
“I think for a young quarterback, the extra time for the bye week was really valuable,” Franklin said. “He does it the right way, him and Will [Levis]. They’re preparing at a really high level, doing the things they need to do to be successful.”
While Clifford’s performance will be more noted for his throwing prowess, he also led the team in rushing and kicked off the night’s scoring with an 8-yard touchdown run on the heels of Johnson’s interception. Allowing Clifford and company to operate from the 8-yard line certainly made things easier, as the Nittany Lions faced a raucous Maryland student section behind the end zone.
“It was definitely a boost,” Clifford said. “Obviously, we got our defense setting us up like that in the red zone. But yeah, that’s a huge boost. To get seven points, especially on the road, it takes a little bit of life out of the stadium, so the crowd doesn’t get into it as much.”
Clifford spread the ball around to 11 receivers on the night, but it was star receiver KJ Hamler who unsurprisingly led the team with six catches. Hamler, who finished with 108 yards receiving, dazzled on a 58-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the first quarter that gave the Nittany Lions a 14-0 lead just over five minutes in.
“I was getting outside leverage, and basically I just ran a slant,” Hamler said. “I caught it, and I wasn’t expecting a bunch of tacklers out there. And you know, the rest is history.”
Breaking ankles much like Allen Iverson once did, Hamler’s spectacular moves in the open field are becoming more and more of a weekly occurrence. Tonight’s catch-and-go matched the 95-yard catch of last year’s Ohio State game in terms of sheer brilliance, and teammates are taking notice.
“I’m not saying this just because KJ’s one of my best friends, but he is, I think, the most explosive player in college football,” Clifford said. “The way he keeps on coming out and playing like he is right now, it’s very impressive. When you can throw him a little slant to him and take it 60 yards, it makes my job a lot easier.”
Aside from Hamler, running back Journey Brown and tight end Nick Bowers joined in on the touchdown party. For Bowers, it was his first catch of the season and first touchdown since the Citrus Bowl in January.
In addition to an early second-quarter Ricky Slade touchdown and a half-ending Jake Pinegar field goal, the Nittany Lions would tack on three more touchdowns in the second half. With Journey Brown plunging in from the 1-yard line in the third and Will Levis rushing for two more touchdowns in the fourth, Penn State allowed its younger players to gain invaluable experience on the road in the Big Ten opener.
However, if there was one player who came out of College Park with the biggest confidence boost, it had to be Clifford. Starting in the first road game of his collegiate career, Clifford hardly looked the part.
More closely resembling Baltimore Ravens quarterback Trace McSorley, who was spotted on the Penn State sidelines, Clifford ignited the Penn State faithful who journeyed to Maryland’s campus and received bounds of respect from his teammates.
“He’s a leader, he’s a born leader,” Hamler said. “You know, Sean’s gonna stick it out through thick or thin, so I’m never hesitant. I never worry when he’s in the game, he’s our quarterback. You know, he’s always got our backs, we always got his back.”
With the team and fans both behind him, the No. 12 team in the country’s gunslinger certainly silenced any lingering doubts with an all-time quarterback performance for the Nittany Lions.
Andrew Destin is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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