COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The play had ended, but Connor McGovern was still on the ground.
Penn State’s starting center was sitting up on the turf at Maryland Stadium as athletic trainers came out to take a look at McGovern’s left knee.
Fortunately for the Nittany Lions and McGovern, there wasn’t too much cause for concern.
The Lake-Lehman grad sat out most of the second quarter of Penn State’s steamrolling of Maryland on Saturday but surprisingly came back out to play after halftime.
The Big Ten Network broadcast had reported that McGovern would not return after he left early in the second. But return he did — just with a little extra wrapping underneath his usual knee brace.
It didn’t initially look to be a serious issue as McGovern was able to walk off under his own power. Walk-on Zach Simpson replaced him for the rest of the first half.
“The first thing that goes through my mind was, ‘I’d better get ready,’ ” said Simpson, who quickly started practicing his shotgun snaps with whoever was nearby — in this case, punter Blake Gillikin. “When I saw (McGovern) go down, I just tried to get ready and stay calm. Just do my job.”
Penn State found the end zone shortly after McGovern left to make it a 28-0 lead over the Terrapins. So there wasn’t a ton of urgency to get him back on the field, especially with Penn State’s next game more than a month away.
The sophomore showed no visible problem walking off the field after the game. McGovern checked out for good in the third quarter, when the Lions pulled nearly all of their starters, and passed along advice to his understudy.
“He just said what they were doing up front, and it helped out,” Simpson said. “It’s a good relationship. He’s a good guy, he’s a good football player. He’s a starter for a reason. We need him to be as good as he can be.
“It was good to see him back healthy. Hopefully this month off before the bowl game will help.”
• For the second straight week, tackle Ryan Bates and defensive end Ryan Buchholz suited up for Penn State. This time, both players got on the field.
Neither was in the starting lineup as the Lions eased them back into action from lower-body injuries suffered at the end of October against Ohio State.
Buchholz was used in pass-rushing situations, lining up at both end and tackle on third-and-long, a role he has filled for the last two years. Bates got in the game late in the blowout, as did fellow lineman Andrew Nelson, who has battled injuries for the past year. Most of Nelson’s woes came from last year’s game against Maryland, when he was carted off with a torn ACL.
For the fourth week, Kevin Givens started in place of Buchholz and Will Fries stayed at left tackle with Chasz Wright on the right side.
• Returning to action from undisclosed absences were wide receiver Irvin Charles and tight end Jonathan Holland.
• Nick Scott got the start at safety in place of Troy Apke, who was sidelined for the first half because of a targeting ejection in the second half of last week’s win over Nebraska.
Penn State brought an extra safety, sophomore John Petrishen, on the travel roster as a result.
Brother to brother
Josh McPhearson had been to Maryland Stadium before. His older brother, Gerrick, had been a cornerback for the Terps, playing from 2002-05. On Maryland’s staff at that time? James Franklin, then a receivers coach 10 years before becoming Penn State’s head coach.
“I remember coming to practice with my siblings and seeing Coach Franklin jogging around the field,” said McPhearson, a Maryland native, who recalled Franklin letting him in the Terps locker room after an upset win over Florida State. “He’s like family, man.”
That connection helped bring McPhearson to Penn State as a walk-on, and later bring his younger brother, Zech, to the Lions on scholarship.
On Saturday, in their return to their home state, they teamed up for a special teams turnover. Josh, a senior, forced a fumble on a Terps kickoff return and Zech, a redshirt freshman, came up with the recovery to set up one of Penn State’s nine touchdowns.
“I thought Josh McPhearson played really well on special teams,” Franklin said. “It seemed like he made every tackle on special teams.”
The Lions will now await their bowl game destination, which they will learn on Dec. 3, the day after the various conference championship games.
With a 10-2 record, a top-10 ranking in the College Football Playoff rankings and a fan base that travels well, the Lions are poised to end up in one of the four New Year’s Six bowl games — the Cotton (Dec. 29), the Fiesta (Dec. 30), the Orange (Dec. 30) or the Peach (Jan. 1). The Rose and Sugar will serve as the Playoff semifinals.
Of those four, the Orange is the least likely, as one spot must go to an ACC team and the other will go to either a Big Ten team, an SEC team or Notre Dame — and the Orange is expected change it up after going the Big Ten route (Michigan) last year.
The CFP selection committee has final say in arranging the matchups for all of the New Year’s Six bowls.
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse