The talent, speed and depth of this Penn State squad was on full display for a national audience to see
What do you do coming off a bye week if you are a talented football team striving to get better? For Penn State it meant going on the road to a hostile environment and playing a near flawless game.
If it gets much better than Friday night in College Park, well that is something I want to see. The opponent, Maryland, didn’t offer much resistance. There was a reason for that, though.
Penn State ripped the crowd out of the game with turnovers and 14 quick points, then proceeded to shred the Maryland defense with surgeon-like precision that produced 38 first-half points and a 59-0 victory.
At the center of that storm was redshirt sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford. Earlier this week, I gently reminded Nittany Lions fans that any cause for concern about your quarterback was a waste of time.
Honestly, I’m not surprised Clifford came out and put on a show. He’s confident yet humble and will simply not be outworked. And he saw the film … he knew.
A school record 287 passing in the first half on his way to a career-best 398 yards and three touchdowns. He also posted his first rushing touchdown as a Nittany Lion on Penn State’s first offensive snap following a Jan Johnson interception.
Clifford completed 84 percent of his 31 pass attempts and converted all five third downs in the decisive first half. He totaled 452 yards of offense and four touchdowns in less than three full quarters of work.
It’s not going to be that easy every week, not by a long shot with the Big Ten schedule facing Penn State. But with the weapons surrounding him, Clifford is a powder keg waiting to go off on short notice.
How about seven receptions by the running backs? You want to put a defense in a bad spot, this Penn State offense forces defenders on an island with those four running backs catching short tosses and going to work.
Here’s the explosive potential each and every week for this offense. Penn State ran 41 plays in the first half and posted 19 first downs. That means almost half of their snaps resulted in a first down. That potential is not going away anytime soon.
For the first time all season the defense looked settled and prepared to play at the snap. And good gracious is this unit fast in space. Maryland has some zip at the skill positions and they looked vastly overmatched.
Eight tackles for a loss, four sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. And star linebacker Micah Parsons was ejected midway through the first quarter for targeting. In stepped redshirt freshman Jesse Luketa to replace Parsons. I didn’t see much drop off, did you?
What I learned most was offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne has figured out how to mix-and-match the four running backs by using them as pass catchers as well. It opens up so many more options and keeps the playbook wide open.
And defensive coordinator Brent Pry has a wealth of talent to choose from that goes 17 or 18 players deep with very, very little or no drop off.
Maryland, who promised to offer more resistance and not get blown out again, went away relatively easy and quietly. It wasn’t because they face planted themselves all game, either. Turnovers and penalties was an issue, but the bigger issue was Penn State grabbing the game by the throat and never letting off the gas.