Following the brutal non-conference road loss to the Virginia Cavaliers last weekend, the Illinois Fighting Illini return home this Friday to face off against another east coast foe: the Maryland Terrapins. Maryland comes into the game having won its first two matchups of the season against the West Virginia Mountaineers and Howard Bison.
The Terps are now in their third season with Head Coach (and former Illini OC) Mike Locksley, who is 8-17 so far in College Park. After two somewhat lackluster seasons, the Terrapins now seem to have finally found their identity on both sides of the ball.
Many longtime Illini fans will remember Mike Locksley’s successful offenses during his tenure in Champaign from 2005-08. The current Maryland offense is similarly high-powered, and is led by Taulia Tagovailoa, who transferred to Maryland from the Alabama Crimson Tide last season. Tagovailoa, the brother of Heisman Trophy runner-up Tua, is also an accomplished athlete in his own right. Over the four games that he played last season for Maryland, Tagovailoa passed for 1,011 yards along with seven touchdowns against seven interceptions. So far on the 2021 season, Tagovailoa hasn’t missed a beat with six passing touchdowns, 606 total passing yards, and no interceptions in two games.
The Terps’ top three receivers from last season were Dontay Demus Jr., Rakim Jarrett, and Brian Cobbs, all of whom have all returned in 2021. Both Demus and Jarrett each have two receiving touchdowns on the young season, along with 261 and 189 receiving yards respectively. These two receivers will no doubt be challenging for the Illini secondary to handle given the weaknesses that Virginia exposed last weekend.
✌️ things:— Maryland On BTN (@MarylandOnBTN) September 12, 2021
1. Dontay Demus Jr. is as underrated as they come.
2. The WR has a TD in six (!) straight games, the longest streak in program history since at least 1985.@_godof5 // @TerpsFootball pic.twitter.com/j1wfrNob2C
On the ground, Maryland is led so far by Tayon Fleet-Davis, who has rushed for 189 yards and one touchdown in the Terps’ first two games. His touchdown against Howard showed off his speed and athleticism, as he swung to the outside, hit the gas, and leapt past a defender to touch the pylon. Other featured backs include Roman Hemby and Isaiah Jacobs.
Maryland returns both its second- and third-leading tacklers from last season: defensive back Jordan Mosely and linebacker Fa’Najae Gotay, respectively. The Terps’ have demonstrated a solid ability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2021, especially through defensive lineman Sam Okuayinonu and linebacker Deshawn Holt. Okuayinonu and Holt each have two sacks on the season so far, with one in each of their past two games.
In the secondary, Maryland has recorded three interceptions as a team, two of which came courtesy of defensive back Jakorian Bennett. Bennett is averaging 2.5 pass breakups per game so far, which is good for second best in all of college football, and he’s also the first Terrapin to record interceptions in back-to-back games since former Illini Tre Watson did so in 2018.
Junior defensive back Nick Cross also had quite a game against West Virginia in the season opener, as he recorded an interception, a forced fumble, a pass breakup, and six solo tackles.
The Terrapins’ specialists are coached by none other than former Illini head coach and Green Bay Packers special teams coordinator Ron Zook. With the formal title of Associate Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator/Outside Linebackers Coach, it’s clear that Locksley respects Zook’s experience in a number of areas, owing presumably to Locksley’s time as OC under Zook at Illinois.
The Terps special teams aren’t otherwise very noteworthy, but it is worth mentioning that they seem to alternate between two separate punters: juniors Anthony Pecorella and Colton Spangler. Against West Virginia, Pecorella averaged around 35 yards per punt and Spangler averaged about 43 yards per punt.