Five observations from Penn State’s 38-3 victory over Maryland
Quarterback Trace McSorley played at full strength for the first time in a while, and the defense showed how much it had progressed.
Here are some takeaways from Penn State's 38-3 romp over Maryland on Saturday.
Finally, 100 percent McSorley
For the last four games, quarterback Trace McSorley had been playing at less than full health because of a knee injury he suffered Oct. 27 against Iowa, and tweaked two weeks later vs. Wisconsin. But Saturday, McSorley immediately showed he was back to 100 percent, running downfield with Miles Sanders on the second play of the game and throwing a block during Sanders' 35-yard run that helped set up the Nittany Lions' first touchdown.
McSorley ran for two TDs and threw for one, bringing his career total to 21 games in which he has accounted for scores with his legs and his arm. He racked up 294 total yards, his third-highest total of the season.
"I felt like I was back 100 percent; it was good to have that feeling," he said.
Look how the defense has grown
A defense that began the season with many questions matured into a rather solid unit as the weeks went by and closed the regular season with some impressive numbers. The Lions won their last three games against Wisconsin, Rutgers and Maryland by allowing a total of 20 points and giving up an average of 254 total yards.
One especially notable stat from Saturday's game was the fact the defense held the Terrapins, who had rushed for 339 and 353 yards the previous two weeks against Indiana and Ohio State, respectively, to 74 yards on the ground.
Penn State had 33 tackles for loss in the three games, with sophomore Yetur Gross-Matos accounting for 6 ½ of them and redshirt junior Shareef Miller adding 5 ½. With only three seniors on the starting defense, the unit will be tough to handle next season.
Going for 10
Since starting Big Ten competition in 1993, the Nittany Lions have yet to put together three consecutive 10-win seasons. But their victory Saturday gives them a chance. The Lions have had back-to-back 10-win seasons twice, 1993-94 and 2008-09, but never three in a row, and the thought excites head coach James Franklin as he prepares his team for whatever bowl awaits.
"I know that this season, there have been some ups and downs and some challenges and adversity," he said. "When you talk about the Big Ten era, this has been one of the best three-year stretches in program history. We have a chance to do some really special things by winning the bowl game."
And while some fans still remain disillusioned by the narrow losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, this is a pretty big deal.
So which bowl will it be?
The Nittany Lions stood at No. 12 last week in the College Football Playoff ranking but could slip a spot Tuesday if the committee decides to elevate Washington (9-3) from No. 16 after its win over No. 8 Washington State while keeping the two-loss Cougars in the top 12. It's doubtful that Louisiana State (9-3) will slip below the Lions after its seven-overtime loss to Texas A&M, plus the Tigers have a win over No. 5 Georgia in the bank.
So while a third consecutive New Year's Six bowl game seems less likely, Penn State has a clear path to the Citrus Bowl and a game against an SEC opponent, maybe Kentucky. Still, the conference championship games next weekend could scramble all predictions by the time the final poll is released on Dec. 2.
Man, what lousy weather
The Nittany Lions played their final home game before about 50,000 people, well below the announced total of 98,422 tickets sold. Fans driving to the stadium faced icy roads, and a cold rain fell throughout the game.
To make matters worse, the muddy parking lots in the stadium were closed for the second straight home game, forcing spectators to find alternate parking that had been arranged throughout the area. The last three games featured cold temperatures, and two of them included rain. Fans should have better luck at a likely warm-weather bowl game.