CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Illini had a chance to silence a lot of doubters Friday night with a win over Maryland.
Instead, the critics are just getting louder.
In the fourth game of the Bret Bielema era, Illinois blew a touchdown lead with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter and lost to Maryland 20-17 on a last-second field goal.
Now 1-3 overall, the Illini have lost a trio of games — to a mid-major, to a high major, and to a conference foe — in three different ways (a high-scoring affair, a blowout, and coaching and physical mistakes).
Illinois had a chance to seal the deal in the fourth quarter with the ball close to Maryland’s 40-yard line and a third-and-short situation, but on fourth down, the Illini settled to punt. Within three plays, Maryland was near midfield. The Terps later scored on Tayon Fleet-Davis’ second score of the game.
Then came the disaster on offense.
With a chance at a two-minute drill, Illinois QB Brandon Peters — returning from a two-week absence due to injury — took two sacks and threw a screen to his lineman in what ended with a punt from the Illini’s endzone on a fourth-and-37.
Less than a minute later, Maryland sealed the deal and left Champaign (for the first time ever — yes, it was their first meeting all-time at Memorial Stadium) with a win.
Illinois took the lead early in the fourth quarter when Reggie Love, the team’s third-string back, fumbled on a long run. The ball was recovered by wideout Casey Washington, who returned it for a touchdown, giving Bielema’s team a 17-10 lead.
But there were higher expectations for the offense, which got a boost early in the week when it was announced that Peters would return to lead the unit after injuring his non-throwing arm early in Week 0 against Nebraska. But Peters had to go without starting center Doug Kramer, who wasn’t dressed and had a boot on his left foot — Blake Jeresaty started in his place.
Peters’ return (10-for-26, 185 yards) wasn’t a gamechanger for the Illini (1-3, 1-1 Big Ten), who went back to the locker rooms at halftime tied at 3 against former Illinois OC Mike Locksley and the Terrapins (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten).
Out of the break, Maryland got its offense going first, scoring early in the third on Fleet-Davis’ touchdown run. Illinois freshman Josh McCray had an answer minutes later with a 38-yard run of his own, capping an eight-play, 93-yard drive for the Illini.
Ryan Walters’ defense kept the Illini in the game, getting some help from a missed field goal in the first half. Illinois recovered two fumbles in the second half to keep Maryland from taking the lead, but the Terps also couldn’t capitalize on most of their third downs (2-for-10).
Yes, this makes sense.
Casey Washington credited with 0 rushes for 30 rushing yards and 1 rushing touchdown following the fumble recovery.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) September 18, 2021
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
This is the future of football— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) September 18, 2021
PLAY OF THE GAME
Devon Witherspoon pic.twitter.com/ZPNVX6y59G— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) September 18, 2021
TWEET OF THE GAME
Some of the worst shit I’ve ever seen— Bob Zuppke (@BobZuppke) September 18, 2021
Illinois will travel to West Lafayette to play the Purdue Boilermakers (2-0) next Saturday, Sept. 25 at 2:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network.