Maryland’s defense needed to make a stand early in the fourth quarter — a touchdown would’ve essentially eliminated any remaining hope the Terps had for an upset win.
Drew Allar took the first down snap and looked directly to Dante Cephas matched up with Tarheeb Still. Allar tossed a back-shoulder pass that fell over Still and into the arms of a foot-dragging Cephas.
Still thought Cephas was out of bounds. But the official signaled a touchdown, much to the dismay of Still and the Terps.
The senior defensive back was a part of a Maryland secondary that Allar torched. He outdueled Taulia Tagovailoa, who for most of the afternoon was the lone bright spot in embarrassing efforts from both the Terps’ offense and defense. Maryland football underwhelmed in yet another important game, falling 51-15 to No. 9 Penn State.
The loss is the Terps’ fourth in a row. They haven’t won in over a month. Maryland (5-4, 2-4 Big Ten) has still yet to achieve bowl eligibility even after opening the season with five wins. A pair of road trips at Nebraska and Rutgers loom with a home meeting with No. 2 Michigan in between.
The path to that benchmark victory is becoming increasingly clouded.
“We still sit here with five wins with an opportunity to get to six,” Locksley said. “It’s not going to be an easy task.”
Coach Michael Locksley took a chance on the Terps’ opening drive in an aggressive fourth-down decision. It backfired as Corey Dyches failed to get the needed yard. The Nittany Lions scored moments later and were in commanding control the rest of the way.
“We wanted to be really aggressive, we didn’t come here to try to play close,” the coach said.
Penn State (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten) scored a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter as it jumped out to a 14-0 lead. KeAndre Lambert-Smith corralled four passes for 53 yards in the frame, including a 38-yard strike that capped the Nittany Lions’ second scoring drive in the game’s first 15 minutes.
Allar completed 13 of 16 passes for 124 yards during the half against a Terps pass defense that struggled to slow him down. He linked with three different weapons for his trio of touchdowns as Maryland entered halftime in a 14-point deficit.
The sophomore’s fourth quarter touchdown punctuated a 240-yard, four-touchdown game. He completed 74 percent of his passes. Maryland’s defense, which rarely pressured Allard, never found an answer.
The Terps’ quarterback also shined early. Taulia Tagovailoa completed each of his first 17 passes — the last of which a seven-yard touchdown connection with Roman Hemby for Maryland’s lone score of the first half.
But Maryland’s air attack fizzled after halftime. Tagovailoa connected on just half of his second-half passes, fired an interception and lost a fumble, the only highlight a inconsequential 1-yard touchdown to Jeshaun Jones in the fourth quarter.
“We just couldn’t get it together today,” Tai Felton said. “It was just one of them things where we were up-and-down all day and we had some turnovers.”
Josh Gattis’ offense was held back by an inefficient rushing attack behind an offensive line that struggled against a stout Penn State front. Tagovailoa was sacked six times for the second straight game. Maryland’s running backs accumulated -6 yards on seven carries.
The Terps’ inefficiencies on both sides of the ball doomed any chance it had to end its losing skid. Everything went right in Maryland’s first five games. Nothing has gone its way in the four games since.
“The only thing that we should be worrying about is just trying to get a win, get out [of] the gutter,” Donnell Brown said. “Right now we’re in the gutter, and we need to do everything we can to get out [of] the gutter.”