- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 7, 2020

One year ago, as Maryland geared up for its most anticipated matchup against Penn State in recent memory, Terrapins coach Mike Locksley pumped the breaks. There would be a sold-out stadium, a national audience and maybe — just maybe — a chance to pick up a win against the Nittany Lions.

But did that make it a true rivalry, the type of contest the Terrapins have searched for since joining the Big Ten in 2014?

“We got some work to do for us to be able to call it a rivalry,” Locksley said at the time. “You can’t wish and make a game a rivalry. The only way it gets to that point is by competing and having success, so I wouldn’t say it’s a rivalry yet, because we haven’t been consistent enough, or won enough, for us to even get to that point.”

At the time, Locksley was right. Despite all the excitement for that Friday night meeting between the two teams, Penn State left Maryland Stadium with a 59-point win. It was just another trouncing in a long history of trouncings. In the 43 matchups these two programs played between 1917 and 2019, the Nittany Lions had won 40. The Terrapins had won twice. They tied in 1989.

A lot can change in a year, though. And while one win doesn’t guarantee future results, Saturday’s 35-19 victory for Maryland at Beaver Stadium could be the kind of place-setting performance needed to turn a wish into a reality, a game into a rivalry.

“I’m just so happy for the players in that locker room. I’m happy for the former Terp football players who have all endured obviously us not playing competitively against a team with great tradition, like Penn State,” Locksley said Saturday. “So, this win is for Terp nation.”

Beyond it developing into just a rivalry, though, the Terrapins can hope this is a sign of competitiveness in a Big Ten East division that has often stumped them since joining the conference. Entering Saturday’s game, Maryland was 9-27 against divisional foes.

One of those wins came against Penn State in 2014, with a last-minute field goal from kicker Brad Craddock to win a game that began with the Terrapins’ captains refusing to shake the hands of the Nittany Lions’ captains before the coin flip.

There’s long been heat in this matchup — potentially manufactured to find some edge in a lopsided series — but it hasn’t resulted in much success. After that 2014 win, Penn State rattled off five straight victories with an average point differential of 36.4.

Locksley was the offensive coordinator for that 2014 win. He knows the difficulties attached to a trip to State College, but he’s helped guide Maryland to two of the program’s three triumphs over the Nittany Lions.

“I grew up a Terp fan, know the history of these two teams, and know it hasn’t been in our favor at all,” Locksley said. “Going into this game, it’s easy to be emotional about how we prepare for them. I did everything I could to not be the fanboy with this.”

Instead, he focused on his team’s execution during practice. He told his team they needed to create turnovers and make quarterback Sean Clifford uncomfortable in the pocket. They did both on defense, recording seven sacks and three turnovers.

And on offense, Taulia Tagovailoa continued an impressive start to his Maryland career, throwing three touchdowns — two of which went to wide receiver Rakim Jarrett, a five-star freshman.

It resulted in the Terrapins’ biggest win over Penn State and displayed some of the progress Locksley hopes to be making with this program. He’s 15 games into his tenure as Maryland’s head coach. His all-time coaching record still rests at 8-41, but Saturday’s statement might lay claim to belief in the Terrapins’ turnaround.

“I have confidence in Coach Locksley,” Maryland athletic director Damon Evans said Thursday on Baltimore’s 105.7 The Fan. “He’s only in his second year. I’m extremely excited about where he can take our program and I know he’ll get us to where we want to be, and that’s being competitive within this brutal Big Ten.”

After the game, Locksley still harped on how he’s laying the foundation in College Park, hoping for long-term success. Saturday might have been an eye-opening result, but it doesn’t mean the Terrapins have arrived.

A win like that, though, is a tangible sign of progress against a team that’s long held the upper hand. It could go a long way toward making it a rivalry game in the future. But beyond that, Saturday’s win could signal competitiveness — something Maryland has searched for since joining the Big Ten.

“We’re going to take it as one win,” Locksley said. “Obviously, it’s a big one. It’s a big one for our young team to come up here in State College and win a game against a traditional power like a Penn State.”


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