In Mike Locksley‘s first game as interim coach, the Maryland football team suffered a 31-30 loss to Penn State. Here are our 5 observations from the contest:
- Secondary struggles – If you didn’t know any better, you would think that Christian Hackenberg was a front runner for the Heisman trophy. Maryland’s secondary looked downright pedestrian against the Nittany Lions. Hackenberg gashed the Terrapins to the tune of three touchdowns while completing nine passes of 15 yards or more. The defensive backs certainly had their fair share of struggles, but it wasn’t just one guy. Sean Davis and Anthony Nixon were among those that were beat multiple times by the Penn State wideouts. Nixon almost looked like a defensive liability out there as he fell down trying to cover the speedy receivers. One of the biggest issues that the Maryland secondary had was turning around to look for the ball. Several receptions may have been prevented if the defensive backs would’ve just adjusted when the ball was in there and would’ve had a chance to knock it away.
- Perry Hills turns it over – After having a strong performance on the ground against Ohio State, Perry Hills did more of the same against Penn State. Once again, he led the Terps in rushing with 124 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown. Through the air, Hills was efficient and didn’t take a ton of chances. However, he did throw three interceptions, including one in the final minutes that sailed and sealed Maryland’s fate. Honestly, Hills isn’t the type of player that is going to light the world on fire. He’s not a flashy four-star recruit that has mind-boggling athleticism. However, there are strengths to his game that he needs to keep playing to. When the play breaks down, Hills has the ability to run the football at an effective rate. From an aerial perspective, he doesn’t have a rocket arm, but he does have the ability to put the ball where it needs to be. If he can take care of the ball, Maryland may be able to make some noise during the second half of the season.
- Run defense shows improvement – Coming into Saturday’s game, Maryland had one of the worst run defenses in the Big Ten. With Penn State having one of the most productive backs around in Saquon Barkley, the stage was set for a huge mismatch. However, the Terps held the Nittany Lions to just 31 carries for 48 yards. Barkley did have 65 yards on his own, but it took him 20 carries to get to that mark. When the opposing team’s longest run was only 10 yards, you’re doing something right. It’s a huge step to show this kind of improvement because a good amount of the front seven is young. If this type of production can be sustained, that’ll translate into more pieces for Locksley or Maryland’s new coach to work with.
- Pass rush continues to excel – Despite surrendering 31 points to Penn State, Maryland still continues to get after the quarterback at an alarming rate. The Terps are accumulating 3.4 sacks-per-game, which is the second-highest rate in the Big Ten. Michigan State have two more total sacks, but are only getting to the signal caller 3.3 times per contest. On Saturday, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue continued his reign of terror as he recorded two sacks on Hackenberg. Azubuike Ukandu also registered a sack, which puts him at three for the season. The Terps have gotten production from all around the defensive line with five players having recorded multiple sacks this season.
- Injuries – Wideout D.J. Moore (knee) and offensive linemen Damian Prince (ankle) and Andrew Zeller (shoulder) are the major highlights on the injury report. Prince is currently in a walking boot while Moore was scheduled to have an MRI on Monday. Defensive tackle Kingsley Opara is suffering from a hip contusion while kicker Brad Craddock has a right ankle sprain after being hit on a field goal attempt this past week. All of these injuries appear to be fairly minor, but we’ll learn more later in the week.
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