COLLEGE PARK, Md. – It was a smashing conclusion Saturday to the end of the regular season for Penn State. The Nittany Lions routed Maryland, 66-3, for their 10th win, the first time they've had double-digit wins in back-to-back seasons since 2008 and 2009.
But as the Lions (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten), No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings, continued to drive up and down the field to excite the large portion of the crowd of 49,680 who wore blue and white and remained in their seats at Maryland Stadium until the final gun, the thought of what could have been seemed to be on the minds of many.
Not the mind of James Franklin, however.
"I'm excited about being 1-0 tonight," the head coach of the Nittany Lions said. "I'm excited about winning 10 games. I'm going to focus on the positive, not the woulda-shoulda-couldas, because we can't affect them, right?"
Maybe not, but the tape of the two losses might replay in some of the players' minds. The Lions led at Ohio State for 58 minutes and lost by one. They went to Michigan State and were defeated on a field goal on the game's last play.
It turned around in the last three weeks, however. The Lions didn't allow a touchdown to Rutgers or Maryland and averaged 52.3 points in their three wins, and are in great position for a New Year's Six bowl when the bids come out next Sunday.
Trace McSorley, who passed for 237 yards and two touchdowns in less than three quarters of play, said the close losses make him realize how important every play is.
"I think the learning experience is, you actually don't get that opportunity to go back and fix it," he said. "So you need to treat every play like it's gold during the game. You never know which one is going to be the difference. You have to treat every play like this play right here is going to win the game."
Penn State made just about every play against the Terrapins (4-8, 2-7), rolling up 534 yards of total offense and scoring at least two touchdowns in every quarter. McSorley's two TD passes went to tight end Mike Gesicki, and he also ran for a score. Saquon Barkley, who rushed for 77 yards in 16 carries, went over twice from a yard out.
But it was backup quarterback Tommy Stevens who emerged, statistically at least, as the game's dominant offensive player. The redshirt sophomore scored the team's initial touchdown on a 21-yard run in which he faked a reverse handoff to Barkley.
Then after replacing McSorley midway through the third quarter, he scored on runs of 3 and 6 yards and fired a 4-yard TD pass to reserve tight end Tom Pancoast. He finished with a team-high 113 rushing yards on 12 carries.
"It's cool, it's good. I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel good," Stevens said. "I'm glad I played well. But ultimately this is a team win and we played really well. I've got to build off of it."
The Lions scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions and led, 31-0, at the half. For the game, they ran 88 plays, held a 15-minute advantage in time of possession and converted 11 of 17 third downs.
The Penn State defense stopped Maryland on three fourth-down plays. The Terps gained 303 yards but got their only points on Henry Darmstadter's 42-yard field goal in the third quarter. The Lions had five sacks and recovered two fumbles, one on special teams.
Linebacker Jason Cabinda, who made one fourth-down stop in the opening quarter that eventually led to a touchdown, said wondering what might have been is useless.