Well, that was just straight-up embarrassing. After a truly pathetic first-half effort, the second half saw a slightly-improved defensive effort paired with another 30 minutes of offensive ineptitude, leading to an eventual Maryland win by a final score of 35-19.
We'll have plenty to say about this game in the coming days, so let's get into the key takeaways.
1. the Offensive Line is a Problem
The Maryland pass rush was very, very low on the list of concerns heading into this game, and that's exactly where it should have been. And yet, the Penn State offensive line, a unit that was supposed to be one of the best in the conference, was absolutely abused by a very average front-seven.
And then there's the run game. No Journey Brown or Noah Cain hurts a lot, but even they wouldn't be finding holes to run through with what the line has provided in 2020. This finally looked like it was going to be the year in which Penn State fielded a legitimately good offensive line, and it looks just the same as it's ever looked. They're routinely confused by stunts, have tons of trouble picking up blitzes, and just don't have any mean streak to speak of.
2. The Defense Is an Even Bigger Problem
The Nittany Lions looked unprepared for what Ohio State was doing in Week Two. Of course, Ohio State is Ohio State for a reason. Ryan Day and his staff are outstanding offensive minds and outsmart most opponents.
But there was no excuse for what we saw from Brent Pry's unit against the Terps. For the third week in a row, we saw a group that didn't look like it had any idea what to do or where to go at any given moment. We saw late shifts before the snap and missed assignments galore. Jan Johnson and Cam Brown may not have been the best linebackers that have ever donned the blue and white, but they understood how to get their fellow defenders in the same place. There is no such presence on this 2020 defense.
And then there's the defensive philosophy itself. Pry has always favored the "bend but don't break" style, which normally isn't a terrible thing, but such a style is pretty rough to watch when your defenders don't know how to take good angles.
To be fair, the unit was much better in the second half (no points allowed). But that hardly matters when it was as bad as it was in the first 30 minutes.
Brent Pry has been with James Franklin for a very long time, but his seat needs to be very warm right now. The circumstances of 2020 are rough, to be sure, but his unit has been completely unprepared for its opponent for three weeks now. Something needs to change.
3. Sean Clifford Simply isn't good enough
I believe that Kirk Ciarrocca's offensive system can succeed in Happy Valley. We saw as much in Minneapolis. But at this point, I would be shocked if that happens with Sean Clifford at quarterback. In order for this system to work, the quarterback needs to be able to make quick, confident decisions and read a defense. Surely the lack of a normal offseason has made the transition to the new offense tougher, but with what we've seen of the Ciarrocca-Clifford marriage, I can't believe that anything but a quick divorce is in the cards.
Clifford just hasn't shown any improvement from 2019, and if anything, looks to have regressed. He so rarely goes through progressions as a passer, instead locking onto his first target and never getting off of him. When he does find an open man, his accuracy is so shotty that it's a crapshoot as to whether or not the throw will even get there. And in the read-option game, he makes the incorrect read so often that it almost makes the play unusable.
When you combine those issues, it makes playing defense against Penn State so simple. The combination of Clifford and these receivers (outside of Dotson) isn't good enough to make teams fear them on the outside. There's no need for teams to do anything more than play simple man coverage and keep the safeties deep while allowing the linebackers to blitz and tee off on the run game. Opposing teams do not respect what Clifford can do, nor should they.
We'll have plenty more to break down about what to take away from this game and analyzing the state of the program in general here at Roar Lions Roar in the coming days.