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Penn State Nittany Lions

Ending The Regular Season The Right Way

After an uninspiring 20-7 win over Rutgers, I wrote in the recap that it was the same song and dance every week from Penn State. Whether it was play calling, lack of execution, dumb mistakes — whatever it may be — it just seemed like the Nittany Lions could never fire on all cylinders. Sure, getting to 8-3 and the No. 12 ranking was something to be proud of, but for a program and fan base with heightened expectations, one would have hoped that the journey would have been a little cleaner.

I’m not even talking about the losses, but more so the wins that left a little to be desired. Don’t get me wrong, I was through the roof when Penn State pulled it out against Iowa. It’s right there with Northwestern 2012 as one of the more underrated games in Beaver Stadium. But that was a game where Penn State had the opportunity to truly pull away, and thanks to two turnover blunders, it never did. Same story with Indiana. To a lesser degree, same with Wisconsin too.

It had become par for the course for this Penn State team: get the win, by my goodness, make sure it isn’t easy. I think many of us expected more of the same against the Terrapins. A win for sure — we all knew Trace McSorley wasn’t losing his last home game to Maryland — but a frustrating 60 minutes of football.

Instead, finally, we saw a complete game from the Nittany Lions.

The defense continued its run of impressive performances. A week after gashing Ohio State’s defense for 339 rushing yards, the Terrapins couldn’t find any lanes to run through against the Nittany Lions. Perhaps most striking was just how dominant Brent Pry’s defense was against the jet sweeps, a tactic Matt Canada used successfully against Pry’s defense just two years ago.

Of course, we know Pry is a good coach who would be ready this time around, but to see how prepared the defense was for the jet sweeps — from the linebackers shifting pre-snap, to the defensive ends flying to the outside, to cornerbacks coming up and making tough tackles — was just a reminder that Pry is one of the best defensive coordinators in the game.

As great as the defense was though, it was the breakthrough of the offense that had to be most satisfying — both for the fans, and more importantly, the players and coaches themselves.

From the onset, Penn State’s offense set the tone. It only took four plays for the Nittany Lions to find the end zone, and from there, they didn’t look back. 565 total yards. 10.6 passing yards per attempt. 7.0 rushing yards per attempt. The offense was faced with third downs just seven times, which is tied for the least amount of third downs of James Franklin’s tenure.

Despite only putting up 38 points, this was the most efficient outing we’ve seen from offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne. For the first time since at least September, it finally felt like the offense was clicking. Moving forward, it should be something that can be built upon, and hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.

Of course, the Penn State season isn’t over. There’s still one more game. So as the Nittany Lions head into bowl preparation in the coming week, one would hope there’s some newfound confidence in that locker room. I say “hope” because I won’t pretend to know what to expect from this Penn State team. But what I will say is this: for a season that has largely been filled with angst since the ending of the Ohio State game, it finally felt good for everything to fall into place so perfectly. Sure, it was just Maryland, but for a Penn State team that has struggled to fully put away any of its opponents since September, there had to be a sense of relief on that sideline.

For once, there was no close game in the fourth quarter. For once, both sides of the ball executed. And for one final time, a number of seniors who meant a lot to this place could take in a joyous (but small) atmosphere in Beaver Stadium.

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