Whether it was because of the short week or the defenses simply having the upper hand, it took until the final three minutes of the fourth quarter Friday night for Maryland to find its offensive groove against Illinois at Memorial Stadium.
After the defense forced Illinois to punt with 55 seconds left, junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa launched a 26-yard pass to sophomore receiver Rakim Jarrett, which set up a 32-yard field goal by Joseph Petrino in the final seconds to escape Champaign, Illinois, with a 20-17 victory.
Maryland is 3-0 for the first time since 2016.
For a moment, it appeared as if Maryland (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten) was going to lose in the most improbable fashion. During the opening seconds of the fourth quarter, Illinois running back Reggie Love III bounced to the outside and raced down the sideline before fumbling the ball. Wide receiver Casey Washington picked it up and ran into the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown, giving Illinois a 17-0 lead with 14:13 to play.
Maryland coach Mike Locksley has said several times how he didn’t want the Terps to beat themselves with penalties. That message has yet resonated, as the Terps committed eight penalties for 63 yards Friday. No penalty was more costly than offensive lineman Jaelyn Duncan getting called for a chop block, which negated Tagovailoa’s 41-yard touchdown pass to Dontay Demus Jr. (team-high eight catches for 77 yards) that would’ve tied the game in the fourth quarter.
For most of the game, Maryland’s offense stalled after averaging 46 points in season-opening wins over West Virginia and Howard. Tagovailoa, who went 32-for-43 with 350 yards and a touchdown, struggled to find any receivers down the field, forcing him to either keep the ball or settle for short passes.
Tagovailoa tried to jump-start Maryland’s offense with a 37-yard pass to Jarrett (four catches for 70 yards) in the opening seconds of the second quarter. Tayon Fleet-Davis’ 16-yard run put the Terps in scoring position, but Demus was stopped on third down and Maryland settled for a 32-yard field goal by Petrino.
Maryland didn’t score a touchdown until the third quarter when Tagovailoa’s 35-yard run set up Davis’ second rushing touchdown of the season. The Terps looked like they were going to score again, but Davis (11 carries for 62 yards) fumbled the ball in the red zone, which led to a 38-yard rushing touchdown by Illinois’ Josh McCary to even score at 10.
With Maryland’s offense desperately trying to find momentum, the defense was solid. In the first quarter, Peters, who finished with 185 yards, took a pair of deep shots that were broken up by Tarheeb Still and Nick Cross, who finished with six tackles, three pass breakups and an interception.
With the Fighting Illini deep in the red zone in the second quarter, Cross broke up Peters’ potential go-ahead touchdown pass. After Peny Boone fumbled, Cross picked off Peters to put Maryland back on offense.
Terps junior linebacker Durell Nchami was a force off the edge, recording two of Maryland’s five sacks. When Illinois was trying to make a play during the closing seconds of the first half, Nchami brought down Peters for a loss of 9 yards.
Maryland’s defense came through in the fourth quarter. Walk-on Greg Rose recorded a pair of sacks, forcing Illinois to punt. In the final 47 seconds, Tagovailoa took advantage of the solid field position as he completed passes to Jarrett and Davis before Petrino sent the Terps home with smiles of their faces.
This story will be updated.
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