Give the opponent some credit. They faced adversity of their own recently and came out swinging. As predicted, the Maryland Terps had nothing to lose, everything to gain and played like they meant it. They fought until the bitter end. Dare I say that we actually DO have a rivalry brewing between us? As much as we may not want to admit it and despite their actions a year ago with the whole handshake incident, I actually think a rivalry may very well blossom into reality down the road. Maybe that's not such a bad thing after all. It’s safe to say that most of us would prefer our neighbors to the south over the ones in East Rutherford, NJ, if a rivalry must occur. It's an interesting topic to debate, but one to analyze at a later time. We have a Game Ball and Helmet Stickers to hand out and most importantly, a record to acknowledge and recognize.
The kid came to Happy Valley under the most challenging of circumstances. He had the college football world in the palm of his hand as a high school senior. Who could blame him if he chose another route in 2012? Instead, he honored his commitment to Penn State and helped save the program in the process. He's been beaten, battered and bruised. Weathered a coaching change and offensive philosophy. Stood in the face of critics time and time again and answered every single question like a pro. He's shouldered the brunt of the criticism over the offensive shortcomings. He's heard the boos, he's seen the passion and the ugly side of hate. In the process, he has led his team, the one that was left for dead, to three straight winning seasons including a bowl win in New York City. He has also just guaranteed another bowl trip. He has picked himself up after every brutal hit, brushed himself off and walked right back in that huddle… every time. After Saturday's 315 yard, 3 TD effort versus Maryland, Christian Hackenberg stands alone atop the Nittany Lion record books. Today's Game Ball belongs to Hack and Hack alone. God knows, he's earned it as much as he has earned our deep respect.
The main beneficiaries of the Hack bombs in Baltimore are a unit quickly gaining national recognition. Dubbed “The Flight Zone” by position coach, Josh Gattis, Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton, Geno Lewis, and Saeed Blacknall all made the Maryland defense pay a heavy price for the decision to focus on stopping Saquon Barkley. In doing so, the left our receivers one on one with their defensive backs. Helmet Stickers for all four and a small glimpse of potential for the future. On defense, Marcus Allen had a homecoming of sorts and spent the day making life miserable for the other side. Carl Nassib added 2 sacks to continue his reign on top of the nation’s sack leaders, standing tall at a robust 13.5. Brandon Bell spent the day proving once again how worthy he is to don that #11 jersey and Jordan Lucas provided his usual steady hand as the lone senior in the defensive backfield. The defense had its shaky moments but tightened up towards the end and closed the door when it mattered the most. Last but not least, helmet stickers for the punt and kickoff return teams. Both units completely took away the threat of Maryland return ace, Will Likely and rendered his act irrelevant on the day.
As we have done five previous times this season, Penn State stands 1-0 today. With win number six in the books, we add the sweet words, "bowl eligible," beside it. Our beaten down and maligned QB etched his name at the top of the list and a national audience got a taste of just how lethal our wideout combination can be. Last week in Columbus, they found out who Saquon Barkley was and yet, in the eyes of some, it still wasn't good enough. The word progress keeps floating around like a lost ship at sea. A year ago, Maryland came into our house, walked away with a one point victory and left us all with a foul taste in our mouths for their lack of sportsmanship. Saturday afternoon, on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay, Penn State was the last man standing with a one point win of its own and a firm handshake of respect at the end. No matter how you dissect it, no matter how bad you want to pick it apart, that one point win represents a two point advantage in our favor. As I have pointed out before, two steps forward for every one step back. That, my friends, is progress no matter how you try and swing it.