COLLEGE PARK, Md. – This was supposed to be a scary game for Penn State. Maryland was looking to turn the tables against a team that had outscored it, 104-6, the last two years. And the Nittany Lions were exposing some young players in a hostile road environment for the first time, particularly starting quarterback Sean Clifford.
Clifford threw for a school-record 287 yards in the first half and finished with 398 yards and three touchdowns in 2½ quarters of work, leading the 12th-ranked Lions to a 59-0 rout of the Terrapins in their Big Ten opener before a sellout crowd of 53,228.
Penn State (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) handled the loud environment – at least it was loud at the start – by overwhelming the Terps (2-2, 0-1) on both sides of the football. In the first half alone, the Nittany Lions scored on six of their seven possessions in taking a 38-0 lead while piling up 383 yards of total offense and 19 first downs.
“That’s one of the more complete games we’ve played in our six years, really kind of in all three phases,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “We played at a high level defensively. That’s team’s been putting up a bunch of points against different people, and our defense played lights out.
“Offensively I thought Sean was on fire, really handled being on the road for the first time in a Big Ten environment. I thought the environment to start the game was challenging, and I thought we handled it really well.”
Clifford stayed poised in his first road start. He completed his first nine passes of the game and finished 26-of-31 for 398 yards and the three scores. He also ran for an 8-yard touchdown on the Lions’ first play from scrimmage after an interception by linebacker Jan Johnson and two penalties against Maryland.
“These are the type of games I like to keep having,” he said. “When I’m visualizing the day before, when I’m visualizing this morning how games go, I’m visualizing success. I’m visualizing each play working in our game plan. Overall, I think our offense did a great job executing.”
Clifford threw scoring passes of 58 yards to KJ Hamler, 15 yards to Nick Bowers and 37 yards to Journey Brown. In the case of the Hamler and Brown scores, Clifford fired short passes to each, and the receivers showcased their speed to get to the end zone.
The redshirt sophomore finished with the third-most passing yards and the third-most yards of total offense (452) in school history. The Lions rolled up 619 yards of offense and 30 first downs.
Defensively, Penn State held the Terps to 128 yards and 2.2 yards per play despite being without sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons, its second-leading tackler, who was ejected in the first quarter for targeting.
Two first-quarter interceptions were huge – the one by Johnson that set up the touchdown, and the other on the goal line by Tariq Castro-Fields that stopped Maryland’s only real scoring threat of the game.
The Terps have not scored a touchdown against Penn State in 14 consecutive quarters.
The score was 38-0 at halftime, and the stadium in the second half looked more like a Penn State home game as the Maryland fans looked for something else to do while the white-clad fans of the Nittany Lions stayed.
Brown added a second touchdown on a 1-yard run in the third quarter, and backup quarterback Will Levis scored on runs of 5 and 8 yards in the fourth quarter.