Takeaways: Maryland 24, Illinois 27

With a chance to secure bowl eligibility heading into the bye weekend, Maryland squared chance after chance as Illinois stormed out of College Park with a last-second 27-24 win after knocking a 43-yard field goal as time expired.

“As I sit here or stand here before you, the more I play this thing back in my head even now, what happened today had very few things to do with Illinois. It goes back to what I always say, it’s gonna be us versus us and we didn’t play very well in any of the three phases. Offensively, to not score there before the half, to be inefficient on third down, not come away with touchdowns when we get into that red area. Defensively gave up too many explosive plays there at the end. And then special teams, kept providing momentum for the other team with the returns that we had. So our standard doesn’t change when we win or when we lose. It stays and remains the same.”

Breaking down reactions as Maryland falls to 5-2 (2-2).

Slow start foreshadows Maryland’s humbling loss

On a rainy Saturday afternoon, Maryland looked half-asleep for much of Saturday afternoon’s loss to Illinois and it was clear from the start.

Maryland punted on its first two possessions of the game on lackadaisical drives, but the Illini were dialed in, and it showed on their first possession. With Reggie Love III sidelined as expected, Illinois turned to freshman RB Kaden Feagin on three of their first six plays from scrimmage before QB Luke Altmyer found WR Pat Bryant a step ahead of CB Ja’Quan Sheppard along the sideline, setting up a 44-yard touchdown and the game’s opening score.

Five plays and less than two minutes later, Maryland was set for its second punt of the day with the lack of energy evident during the slow start.

Takeaway generates Maryland’s first score

Maryland would ignite a sparse crowd on its first and only takeaway of the game after SAF Glen Miller came down with an interception, thanks to a pass deflection by Ja’Quan Sheppard, to set the offense up at the MD 48. Quick passes to Roman Hemby and Jeshaun Jones took the offense onto the Illini’s side of the field for the first time on the day, while Taulia found TE Preston Howard to give the offense its first redzone opportunity.

After a pair of redzone rushes, Maryland turned to Sean Greeley on 4th-and-goal for its first score of the day and Greeley’s second TD of the season, giving the Terps momentum after the Illini opened the game with juice.

Still, three of the Terps’ first four drives ended in punts with the Illini squandering early chances to take a road lead. After a 44-yard field goal attempt by Illinois was wide left, Maryland turned an eight-play drive into its second touchdown as Taulia Tagovailoa found Kaden Prather for a 27-yard touchdown and Prather’s third catch of the day.

Momentum swing before halftime 

Maryland has made deferring a habit this season as head coach Mike Locksley looks to win “the middle eight” to generate momentum. While Illinois won the opening kickoff and elected to defer, Maryland still had an opportunity to close the first half with a score.

After starting at their own 43, Taulia connected on three straight passes before facing a 3rd-and-1 with less than two minutes left in the half. A quick catch and run to Kaden Prather appeared to give Maryland a first down and inside field goal range, but a video review would reverse that after evidence of a fumble, one of Prather’s two fumbles and the team’s three fumbles, giving Illinois the ball with 97 seconds remaining.

Turns out that’s all the Illiini needed to find the endzone once more.

Two defensive penalties would bolster the Illini’s chances of doing so after DE Quashon Fuller was called for illegal hands to the face, three plays before LB Jaishawn Barham was called for a roughing the passer. The Illini took advantage and drove down the Maryland 2 before the Terps appeared to make a third-down stop, forcing a 20-yard FG and preserving the lead. But after head coach Mike Locksley made the questionable decision to call its second timeout of the half, Illinois pivoted and RB Kaden Feagin punched in a two-yard TD with two seconds left before halftime, tying the game at 14 at the midway point.

The inexcusable miscues and penalties would emerge throughout the game, such as Quashon Fuller’s facemask in the third that helped push the Illini just outside the redzone.

Maryland would try to catch the Illini off guard with an onside kick to begin the second half. Not only was Illinois not fooled—Illinois turned an eight-play drive into another touchdown of its opening possession of the half after QB Luke Altmyer found WR Isaiah Williams for a 15-yard TD.

The 17-point swing proved to be the pivotal moment in Saturday’s humbling loss.

Maryland finds success pressuring Illinois QB Luke Altmyer 

Maryland already entered Saturday sitting within the top three in the conference in sacks per game, but if there was any consolation from Saturday’s loss, the front seven found consistent success that began with four sacks in the second quarter.

Linebacker Fa’Najae Gotay kicked off the sack party of Saturday with a third-down sack to force a punt near midfield. On the first play of the next drive, it was Donnell Brown’s turn to take Altmyer down after Illinois started inside the MD 30.

With less than five minutes left in the first half, Kellan Wyatt opened the Illini’s second-to-last drive with a quick sack. Two plays later, Jaishawn Barham found Altmyer at the line of scrimmage to force a quick three-and-out and give the Terps another scoring opportunity ahead of halftime.

Arguably the biggest sack, though, came on the Illini’s opening possession of the fourth quarter when Gotay came down with his second third-down sack to spoil the late field position battle. On the ensuing possession, it would be cornerback Gavin Gibson who came off the edge to bring Altmyer down on a QB keeper on third down, forcing another Illini punt

After the defense finished with a season-high five sacks, Maryland has registered at least two sacks in every game this season and at least three sacks for the fifth time and four consecutive weeks.

Yet still, Maryland’s defense would give up the big plays as the Illini registered 174 yards on eight big plays (15+ yards) while a pair of penalties led to two of Illinois’ six 3rd down conversions.

Lack of balance for Maryland’s offense

Taulia Tagovailoa finished 27-of-39, including completions on all but four of his last 21 passes, tossing a pair of touchdowns and 266 yards while also recording a 21-yard catch-and-run off a designed pass from WR Jeshaun Jones. But if there was ever a game for Maryland to get the running game going, it was against the Big Ten’s worst run defense on a rainy Saturday at home.

And still, Maryland couldn’t do enough.

Maryland finished the day with a sack-adjusted run average of 4.4 yards per carry with Roman Hemby’s 18-yard run the longest run of the day. In fact, it was just one of two of Hemby’s runs that went for at least 15 yards as he led the way with 70 yards on 12 carries. Antwain Littleton, who was stuffed on the questionable 3rd-and-6 call, registered another 25 yards on six carries to Colby McDonald’s two attempts. Granted the absence of Corey Bullock was a considerable blow for an offensive line that’s consistently struggled in run protection, but the lack of touches from the backs into the second level loomed large as the Illini defensive line plugged the holes.

When the run game showed signs of struggle in the week three win vs. Virginia, Locksley noted that Hemby was banged up with early hope the ground game could get back on track. One month later and now two weeks until they face Northwestern, Maryland will look to get healthy and get focused with the lack of balance a grave concern with Penn State and Michigan still on the schedule.

Rally and fall within five minutes

With 4:14 left in regulation and two timeouts, it was Roman Hemby time as the feature back accounted for 35 all-purpose yards on a pair of quick plays to push the Terps just outside field goal range. With time on their side, Maryland looked destined for a last-second touchdown before facing a 3rd-and-6.

That’s when Maryland went with a questionable decision to design a run for Antwain Littleton, who was stuffed for a one-yard loss as the Illini swarmed to the ball. Still, it was within range for Jack Howes as he tied his career long and drilled a 48-yard FG, tying the game at 24.

Yet still, it was plenty of time for Illinois to put one final scoring possession together.

Starting at their own 25, Altmyer found Casey Washington for a 29-yard gain on the second play then Aidan Laughery for a 12-yard gain to put the Illini in field goal range. Maryland would call back-to-back timeouts, giving Illinois a chance to control the clock before a potential game-winning kick.

And control they did as Illinois punched in a 43-yard field goal as time expired, handing the Terps their first home loss and second consecutive loss of the season.

The final drive proved a perfect parallel to Saturday’s game, as the defense showed flashes of success yet repeatedly proved susceptible to big plays.

Maryland’s piling up heading into the bye week

After seven consecutive weekends of football, the injury report began to reflect that as the Terps entered kickoff with a long list of key players inactive.

The offense was without tight end Corey Dyches with Preston Howard and Rico Walker primarily teaming up to fill the void. Cornerback Tarheeb Still was also sidelined for the second consecutive week, while Dante Trader and Riyad Wilmot were inactive against the Illini. 

With Corey Bullock sidelined, Maryland’s starting offensive switched around once more with (L-R) DJ Glaze, Amelio Moran, Aric Harris, Gottlieb Ayedze and Conor Fagan taking the field for the first series.

As expected, Glen Miller filled in for Dante Trader Jr. where the versatile defensive back found himself lined up in the nickel and inside the box throughout the day.

Starting defensive tackle Tommy Akingbesote was nicked up with just over five minutes left in the game but would miss exactly one play before taking the field to help on a critical third-down stop with Quashon Fuller and Fa’Najae Gotay in pursuit.

Next: at Northwestern (Oct. 28)


-Scouts from the Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants and Washington Commanders were in attendance for Saturday’s game, along with reps from both the Citrus Bowl and Reese’s Senior Bowl.

-WR Kaden Prather recorded a receiving touchdown for the third consecutive game

-LB Sean Greeley became the first Maryland defensive player in program history with two offensive TDs in the same season.

-Maryland failed to record 100 rushing yards for the first time this season

-With 1:31 left, Jack Howes tied his career-long with a 48-yard FG

-Maryland now falls to 4-1 at home in 2023

Related Links

Everything Mike Locksley said following Maryland’s loss vs. Illinois

Corey Dyches, Dante Trader, Corey Bullock among those ruled out vs. Illinois

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