They say all that matters is that Maryland won on Friday night against Illinois to move to 3-0 on the season. Was it pretty? Absolutely not. The game looked like it would be something of a trap game for the Terps. In the end, the talent for Maryland and utter incompetence for Illinois proved to be the biggest factors. In their first ever visit to Champaign, the Terps took care of business, albeit in ugly fashion. Maryland’s Joseph Petrino sealed the victory with a game winning 32 yard field goal as time expired to salvage the day for the Terps. Although it was an uneven effort for the team, Maryland showed a lot of grit and mettle. In the end, the only stat that matters is that the Terps added to their win total and remained undefeated in the season.
Early on and for most of the game, it was Maryland doing such a great job of keeping the Illinois offense at bay. The go-ahead touchdown for the Fighting Illini was scored on a broken play. Illinois wideout Casey Washington pick up a fumble and take it to the house for six. In other words, a defensive play leads to the rare offensive scoop and score. In addition, Maryland did a very good job overall of keeping the Illinois running game off balance, especially down the stretch. After punting with roughly ten minutes to go, the Terps held strong against the Illinois running attack, although they had a few self-inflicted issues.
Specifically, many new faces on defense stepped up for Maryland. Namely, senior defensive lineman Greg Rose did a tremendous job. He stepped up after nose tackle Ami Finau left the game on two separate occasions. Rose had three tackles, two sacks, and one QB hit. Those numbers do not jump off the page, but he was all over the field. Another player who might be new to some Terps fans is Terrence Lewis. The true freshman is one of the highest rated recruits of the Locksley era. He made his first appearance for the Terps following an offseason knee surgery. Lewis’ debut was so abrupt that his last name was not even printed on his #0 jersey. Nevertheless, the Miami Central product was effective in coverage and made a few key stops as well.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Terps did a very good job of keeping Illinois out of the backfield. Illinois did not tally many sacks, and pressure was sparse at times. Taulia Tagovailoa had plenty of time to get the ball out of his hands and the pocket was pretty clean all night long. Adding onto the blocking prowess displayed, Tavon Fleet-Davis, Isaiah Jacobs, and Peny Boone all had lanes to run all night. Finally, the wideouts all played well again with Tagovailoa. Dan Enos decided to go deeper into his bag of tricks and that meant featuring different players. Both Brian Cobbs and Darryl Jones both made big plays down the stretch.
Remember, for all of the good things that were discussed earlier, it is important to note that there were numerous things that went awry Friday night. Third downs were a huge issue for the defense. On multiple occasions, Maryland gave up big plays on third down or committed a penalty that allowed Illinois to move the chains. On the subject of penalties, Maryland needs to clean up the infractions. Eight penalties for 63 yards is not a terrible stat. However, the timing of said penalties drew the ire of many fans, and most likely, many coaches. One of the downsides to playing a lot of man to man coverage on the outside is that it puts defensive backs on an island. Many young defenders have a tendency to hold onto offensive players when they get beat, forcing the laundry to be thrown onto the field.
One of the worst things for Maryland concerning the penalties deserves its own description. With roughly 11:15 remaining, Maryland had the ball on Illinois’ 41 and a 3rd & 10 upcoming. At this point, Dan Enos drew up a gorgeous play that had Dontay Demus open on a post route, catching the pass in the endzone for six, most likely tying the game. However, there was a yellow handkerchief on the field that nullified the play. A chop block took the touchdown off the board and on 3rd & 25, there was little Maryland could do. They punted to Illinois, pinning them deep in their own zone. Two quick runs by the Illini were snuffed out, but on third down, the Terps committed a penalty to give Illinois a first down. While that was a killer, the exact same thing happened again: two runs for a few yards and a third down penalty. That sequence would have been the reason for a loss if the offense did not recover. By the time Maryland got the ball back, there was under five minutes left.
Penalties, poor tackling, etc. all need to be cleaned up before Big Ten play really gets going. Maryland got the win: that is the thing to remember because wins are tough to come by. It is going to be the continual improvement that the best coached teams show moving forward.
A tuneup game next week against Kent State should allow the Terps to clean up those areas a little better. For this being the first time they have gone on the road in a raucous environment, the fact that they won was a great thing. For the rest of the season, the Terps will be going against some of the best teams in the country. To be able to get some wins under their belt is key. Moreover, the game was a thriller. Whether that is a good thing is left to one’s personal opinion. For Locksley and Crew, the flight back to College Park was a happy one. That is the only thing to remember from the entire night.