The Illini traveled to the DMV on Saturday for their first ever meeting with Maryland in football. Hopefully the next meeting has a very different outcome, as few fans of either team likely predicted a 63-33 rout by the Terps.
M.J. Rivers: D+
Rivers was knocked out of the game late in the second quarter by Tre Watson, but by that time the Illini were already down 28-9 and the game was getting out of hand. Although his stat line shows he went 3-for-13, he did deliver some good balls that were dropped by his receivers. Rivers also rushed for 26 yards, and had yet another impressive block to spring Reggie Corbin.
Rivers has shown that he can get the job done on offense, but he needs considerable help from his receivers to make it happen.
This one wasn’t close. Maryland came into the game as one of the worst offenses among all Power Five conference schools, and was shut out last week by Iowa. They hung 712 yards of total offense on the Illini and averaged 10.3 yards per play. Put another way, the Illinois defense could not force second downs on average. For a rebuilding team in year three of its defensive scheme, this is a major problem.
Something is fundamentally wrong with the Illinois defense, and it has regressed considerably further from its level of play at this time last year. Lovie Smith and Hardy Nickerson absolutely must figure out what’s wrong and fix it quickly to build momentum going into next season.
Special Teams: D+
Chase McLaughlin had an impressive day, going 4-for-4 with field goals of 32, 34, 39, and 26 yards. In part, this was an indictment of the offense for not being able to find the end zone and keep this game competitive, but McLaughlin’s consistent kicking ability is a major advantage for this team nonetheless. That said, McLaughlin wasn’t able to get one of his kickoffs into the end zone, and it led to this:
Things are no longer going well pic.twitter.com/rYlXaCFMDp— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) October 27, 2018
When the defense struggled the way it did on Saturday, special teams simply cannot allow return touchdowns and let the hole get even deeper. Blake Hayes averaged 41.8 yards per punt, which is solid and on par with his typical performance.
Overall Grade: D-
Illinois has played some tough teams so far, including a Purdue team that has exceeded expectations. But aside from a historically bad Rutgers team, Saturday’s matchup with Maryland was Illinois’ first meeting with another conference rival that is nowhere near the top 25 rankings. The end result confirmed what many Illini fans had feared — that strength of schedule was not to blame for the blowout losses, and that real problems exist on both sides of the ball. These problems must be solved before progress can be made.
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