Penn State's Drew Allar finally plays "free and loose" at Maryland [opinion]

Nov. 5—COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Drew Allar wouldn't buy the suggestion last week that the first interception of his career freed him in a sense, lifting a burden off his shoulders and clearing his mind.

Allar sounded differently Saturday after he threw four touchdown passes in Penn State's 51-15 romp past Maryland at SECU Stadium.

He also looked differently. He looked decisive, not tentative. He looked confident, not uneasy. He went through his progressions and threw the football brilliantly.

It was the best performance of his brief college career.

"I definitely felt comfortable," Allar said. "I think last week, at the end of the game, it finally clicked for me, where I was just out there playing, not trying to be perfect or anything like that. I think that mentality helped me and helped me get to this point. I don't want to lose that.

"It's something that I want to keep building on, playing a little bit more free and loose. When I'm able to do that, it just helps the whole offense."

It helped that the Nittany Lions played the reeling Terrapins, an opponent they've mostly dominated. It helped that Maryland played an aggressive defense, often with no safeties over the top.

It also helped that Dante Cephas finally emerged as a second option at wide receiver behind KeAndre Lambert-Smith, who had eight catches for 95 yards.

Cephas, who starred at Kent State before transferring this year, caught six passes for 53 yards and the first two touchdown catches of his Penn State career.

"I know we want to keep rolling with him," Allar said, "but the whole receiving group as a whole has done a great job. They've been very consistent in how they're practicing the last couple weeks, which is starting to help us in games."

Allar had struggled away from Beaver Stadium before Saturday, completing less than half of his passes for 588 yards and two touchdowns at Illinois, Northwestern and Ohio State.

Against Maryland, he completed 25-of-34 passes for 240 yards and even rushed for 39 yards. He made a beautiful throw to Cephas in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard score on Penn State's first drive. He found Lambert-Smith across the middle for 38 yards and calmly went through his options to find tight end Tyler Warren for 18 yards on the second series.

Late in the second quarter, he completed passes to Cephas and Warren in tight windows, the second for another touchdown and a 21-7 halftime lead.

"I think it's really great to see Drew playing how we all know he's capable of playing," tight end Theo Johnson said, "and just kind of being comfortable and kind of playing lights out."

Early in the fourth quarter, Allar added a 15-yard touchdown pass to Cephas, who created separation from a Terps defensive back, not often seen from a Penn State receiver this season.

"Drew was comfortable moving through his progressions," Penn State coach James Franklin said, "and using his eyes to get people open."

Unbeaten Michigan certainly will present a greater challenge Saturday at noon at Beaver Stadium. The Wolverines most likely will rely on coverage with at least one safety deep.

Franklin and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, though, seem to have more confidence in the Lions' passing game and in their sophomore quarterback, taking the reins off him instead of limiting his options.

Allar, for sure, looks more at ease and less restrained since he bounced back from that late interception against Indiana with his tiebreaking 57-yard touchdown pass to Lambert-Smith.

"I think it (his comfort level) really set in on that last drive (against Indiana) when I just went out there and was kind of confident in myself," he said. "I took a couple of deep breaths and kind of took in the moment instead of overanalyzing things in the moment.

"I think I was just able to find that inner self-confidence that I've always had and kind of just go out there and perform."