Illini Inquirer’s Jeremy Werner and Joey Wagner are at Memorial Stadium for Friday’s 8:05 p.m. kickoff between Maryland (2-0) and Illinois (1-2 1-0 Big Ten), which will be televised on FOX Sports 1. The Illini are seven-point home underdogs to the Terrapins, who are playing just their second game against the Illini since joining the Big Ten in 2014 and their first game at Memorial Stadium.
We will provide frequent updates before and during the game here in our live updates, so refresh frequently!
Illinois 17, Maryland 10; 4:50 left 4Q: Illinois punted the ball back to Maryland and is making the Terps go 86 yards in 4:50 for a chance to tie the game. The defense, which has been strong all night, might need one final stop.
Illinois 17, Maryland 10; 14:13 left 4Q: What a wild turn of events. Reggie Love broke off a massive run of 33 yards, fumbled the ball down the sideline, Casey Washington picked it up in the open field and took it 30 yards for a touchdown. That play, so many times, has gone the other way but Illinois catches a massive break and takes its first lead since Week Zero in a win over Nebraska.
Illinois 10, Maryland 10; :42 left 3Q: This defense is doing its job and bailing out a listless Illinois offense. After an offensive drive, that once looked promising thanks to Josh McCray, moved backwards in a hurry after three penalties, forcing a punt. But the defense held serve, forced a three-and-out and gave the offense yet another chance to get something going.
Off to the fourth quarter, where the Illini have the ball with a chance to get something going.
Illinois 10, Maryland 10; 5:38 left 3Q: Ryan Walters' defense deserves applause. Seth Coleman just stripped the ball out of Maryland's hands for a takeaway inside the Maryland 30. But Brandon Peters just gave it right back, throwing an interception on the first play. What a waste of momentum. Peters is 8-for-23 for 161 yards and an interception. He has not been crisp, to say the least.
Illinois 10, Maryland 10; 6:15 left 3Q: These Illini running backs are pretty good. Chase Brown took a Brandon Peters dumpoff for 21 yards and Josh McCray just bowled over and past some Maryland defenders with a 38-yard touchdown. That's a strong (fresh)man. The Illini offense responds in a big way, and that turnover was a game-changer. The defense got a breather on an eight-play, 93-yard drive. They need a stop after getting diced for 141 yards the last two drives.
Maryland 10, Illinois 3; 9:52 left 3Q: Just as the defense looked like it was ready to break, Quan Martin laid a big hit on Tayon Fleet-Davis, who was upended and fumbled. Kerby Joseph recovered to stop a likely Maryland score. The defense gave the offense another chance. But can Tony Petersen's group do anything with it? Brandon Peters is 7-for-20 passing for 140 yards.
Maryland 10, Illinois 3; 13:11 left 3Q: Well, that was quick and all too familiar for the Illini defense. Maryland just marched 75 yards in five plays, highlighted by a Tagovailoa 35-yard scamper for the first touchdown drive of the game. The Illini tackling has been good for most of the night, but Devon Witherspoon got juked out of his shoes on a 21-yard catch and run by JeShaun Jones, which set up Tayon Fleet-Davis' two-yard touchdown run. Does the Illini offense have an answer in them?
HALF: Illinois 3, Maryland 3: Hell of a half for the defense. The offense needs to figure something out because the receivers aren't getting separation and the runs up the middle aren't working.
Illinois is winning the third-down battle, has fewer penalties and has ate up more clock. But they came away with only three points on three trips into Maryland territory.
Maryland 3, Illinois 3; 1:27 left 2Q: Yeah, points! James McCourt hit a 25-yard field goal to get Illinois on the board, but Illinois coming away with three points after getting 1st-and-5 at the 7-yard line is a huge disappointment. Chase Brown is playing really well (79 total yards), yet he didn't get a touch on the final three plays. Brandon Peters threw three straight incompletions and is now 5-for-15 for 128 yards. His wide receivers aren't getting much separation and his OL is struggling. But the Illini might need to feed Chase Brown more in those opportunities.
Maryland 3, Illinois 0; 3:43 left 2Q: What a half for Ryan Walters' crew. Maryland drove quickly into the Illini red zone with three first downs, but the Illini defense held again to force a Maryland field goal, which Maryland missed. Rod Perry and Seth Coleman are playing well, and the secondary is mostly keeping the talented Maryland wideouts in front of them.
Time for Tony Petersen's offense to score some points. Also, tough one for you over bettors.
Maryland 3, Illinois 0; 10:43 left 2Q: The defense gave up two big plays -- a 37-yard Rakim Jarrett reception and an 18-yard Tayon Fleet-Davis run -- but they held in the red zone, forcing a 32-yard field goal. The defense is doing its job, holding an explosive Maryland offense in check. Time for the offense to do its job and pick up the defense. The Illini are averaging just 3.2 yards per rush.
End 1Q stats
Illinois 0, Maryland 0; 0:50 left 1Q: Man, Illinois now has two trips into Maryland territory and has no points to show for it. Brandon Peters hit Josh McCray for a dumpoff, which McCray took 40 yards into the Maryland red zone. A targeting penalty on Lavonte Gater gave Illinois the ball at the 11. But Illinois couldn't do anything with it near the goal line, and James McCourt's 27-yard field goal was blocked. Man, some positive signs, but no points to show for it.
Illinois, 0, Maryland 0; 5:40 left 1Q: Well, the defense is off to a much better start. After allowing 14 points on the first two drives last week, Illinois has gotten back-to-back stops to start this game. Ryan Walters showed a 3-4 look on the last drive and blitzed on third down. Rod Perry had a good pressure, Seth Coleman continues to play well and Jake Hansen got a tackle for loss to stop Maryland on third down and force a punt. Also, worth noting, Tahveon Nicholson started at corner over super senior captain Tony Adams.
Illinois 0, Maryland 0; 11:32 left 1Q: Illinois' offense got off to a promising start, getting two first downs -- on Brandon Peters throws to Isaiah Williams and Deuce Spann -- but they stalled at the Maryland 40. Blake Hayes pinned Maryland inside their 10, but to get into Maryland territory and not come away with points against this Maryland team is not ideal.
But the Illini defense forced a three-and-out with new starting OLB Seth Coleman getting two stops on the edge. Confidence builder for both sides at least.
7:50 p.m.: About 15 minutes from kickoff here. Some notes from the field: Not a great crowd, which is expected for a Friday night, but the students showed up. Looks like they'll fill the north end zone.
Seth Coleman is starting at outside linebacker over Isaiah Gay, who played poorly last week. This is the second year in a row Gay has been benched midseason for Coleman. Illinois needs to improve the pass rush, and Coleman might be the highest-ceiling OLB on the team.
True freshman Josh Kreutz is the backup center behind Blake Jeresaty, a good sign for the future. Jack Badovinac is starting at left guard with C Jeresaty, LT Vederian Lowe, RG Julian Pearl and RT Alex Palczewski. Also, true freshman OT Brody Wisecarver is dressed after missing the last few weeks.September 18, 2021
7:05 p.m.: Illini center Doug Kramer is out against Maryland. He left in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss to Virginia. Blake Jeresaty, who had started at left guard for most of the season, is the most likely candidate to slide over to center. With the right side of the line effectively spoken for with Alex Palczewski at right tackle and Julian Pearl at right guard, the left guard spot will likely be filled by either Alex Pihlstrom or Jack Badovinac. Kramer is the No. 7 center in the country, according to Pro Football Focus and has arguably been Illinois’ best player this season.
Defensive lineman Keith Randolph and running back Mike Epstein, as expected, are not dressed.
6:24 p.m.: Former Illinois linebacker Kevin Hardy is the honorary captain for this week. He's being inducted into the Illinois Athletics Class of 2020. He spoke with the team on Thursday night.
“They’re going through a little adversity right now," Hardy said. "I told them I remember the days. I actually shared with them a story about the ‘94 team when we came in the (season) as the 21st team in the country and we dropped the opening game to Washington State up in Soldier Field then we won two and we lost to Purdue. We were 2-2 and we thought we should have been 4-0. I know right now they probably feel like they should be 3-0 or at the very least 2-1. I talked to them about dealing with that adversity and finding a way to get that confidence back. They’re in a good space right now. They’re 1-0 in the Big Ten and have the opportunity to go 2-0. I just talked to them about overcoming the start that they’ve had and for them to understand that their goals are still in front of them."
He and former linebacker Dana Howard, who make up half of the 1994 quartet of linebackers, are encouraged by the direction of Illinois under head coach Bret Bielema.
“I think it’s exciting," Hardy said. "I’ve seen him from afar for a number of years. Obviously had great success at Wisconsin, down in Arkansas and obviously spent some time in the NFL. I think that in talking to him, he’s home where he wants to be. I felt the passion that he has when I was talking to him (Thursday). I told him straight up, I’m excited about him being here. I’m excited about the program because I think they have the right man to get things back on track. Then talking to some of the players, they’re excited to play for him. I just think there are nothing but good things ahead and I hope they’re able to get back on track. ...
“I haven’t been back as much. I’m real excited about (Friday night). I’ve been back a couple times for spring games and I’ve been an honorary captain for spring football games but this is going to be different. Night games are always different."
Howard, who was inducted into the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018, had a similar feeling about Bielema, despite the team's losses.
“I think Bret’s the right pick for the job," Howard said. "He’s taken Lovie’s leftovers and trying to build something. These guys probably don’t fit what he does but he’s making it work. He has two actually good quarterbacks, I think. I think the Peters kid is good but I really think the younger guy from Rutgers (Art Sitkowski) is actually pretty good. He has three more years. We can be really good with this kid. We’re running the ball, we have a decent passing attack. We obviously need a couple of guys who can stretch the field, which we don’t have. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and deal with it. Defensive-wise, I think we need a pass rush. If we can get a pass rush, no one is passing for 500 yards on us. You had a Simeon and Kevin, they’d be lucky to get 200 yards passing. Those are things that people neglect and don’t realize is our pass rush means everything."
5:40 p.m.: Brandon Peters returns to quarterback the Illini after playing only 13 snaps in his Week Zero start before a shoulder injury sidelined him for most of the first three games. Clearly, Peters’ return is a good thing for Illinois. He won the starting quarterback job handily during the offseason and seems to have more arm strength and comfort in Tony Petersen’s offense that Artur Sitkowsi since Peters has been here the entire year and Sitkowski just arrived in June.
But will Peters have to shake off rust? Will he be a considerable upgrade over Sitkowski? The Illini coaches don’t even have answers to that. They reiterated this week that starters don’t lose their jobs due to injury. Peters looked great during the spring game, but he was playing against backup defenders — and the first-string defense hasn’t looked good at all so far this season.
Will Petersen ease Peters in with some easy throws? Can he afford that given the Illini’s slow starts the last few weeks and the team really needing some early confidence? Peters’ return is a positive but also a pretty big question mark.
‘I’m excited to get him back in there,” Petersen said on Wednesday. “He was our starting quarterback going into the season. Guys don’t lose their jobs because of injuries. He’s healthy and ready to go now and brings something a little bit different to the table. I’m excited to see where he’s at. He didn’t get very many snaps in that first game and I was excited to see how he was going to play against Nebraska. It’s kind of like starting a season over at the quarterback position with him and I can’t wait to see how he performs."
The good thing is that the Illini offensive skill players are starting to get healthy. Chase Brown looked great last week, and Jafar Armstrong and Brian Hightower had a full week of practice. Maybe the offense can take some steps forward in the coming weeks. Given what we’ve seen from the defense, they’ll need to.
5:20 p.m.: I’ve really enjoyed my chats so far with Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters. While he may not be as energetic as Aaron Henry or as authoritative as Bart Miller, I find Walters to give thorough, insightful answers to our questions in interview settings. But after getting dominated the last two weeks, Walters probably can’t give any answers that would satisfy anyone right now.
Illinois clearly needs more talent. The coaches probably won’t be that blunt about it during the season, but the team isn’t winning enough one-on-one battles at any level to succeed. But the more frustrating thing is that Illinois is beating itself. Missed assignments, missed tackles and bad penalties really crushed the Illini last week in a 42-14 loss at Virginia. Bielema clearly sees a lack of confidence and lack of translation from practice execution to game execution. Walters seemed to focus more on the mental side than the physical side as well.
“We’ve got to handle adversity better when things aren’t going right, just settling in and focusing on assignments, pre-snap communication, the details," defensive coordinator Ryan Walters told Illini Inquirer on Tuesday. "When we’re calm and not really pressing, we play well. When we’re trying to seek and make plays and getting rattled, things sort of start to unravel, right? We’ve got to be able to hit the reset button when we get a bad play. That can’t turn into a snowball effect. Right now, that’s what’s happened the last two weeks. Me personally, got to do a better job of getting them in the right spots to calm them down. Then collectively as a unit, just handling bad things. Bad things are going to happen, so when they do happen just not letting them affect the future.
“It’s eye violations, it’s technique issues, it’s pre-snap communication, it all ties in together. A lot of those weren’t in man coverage so we’ve got to get better at our zones and understanding the whys of why we need to be where we’re at on the field and having the other guys count on players being where they’re supposed to be. Those things take time and take experience and sometimes you’ve got to learn the hard way. I just hope we don’t have to learn the hard way anymore."
Maryland probably isn’t as good on the offensive line as Virginia, but their passing attack is just as dangerous. Taulia Tagovailoa was turnover-prone last season but has the potential to be among the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten this season, and so far is the conference’s most efficient quarterback. His wide receiver corps arguably is as good as any in the Big Ten outside of Ohio State. Does Walters get aggressive in putting pressure on Tagovailoa and risk his secondary against those wideouts? Or does he hope his front four simply wins more one-on-one battle? The appears to be picking his poison right now, but it seems he’ll error on the side of aggression.
“We’ve got to be more aggressive,” Walters said. “I might have to pressure more and do things like that to get the quarterback off the spot."
5 p.m.: Good evening! Jeremy Werner here, and I’ll be filing updates here through most of this (late) night at Memorial Stadium. For the second time in four games, Illinois will have a national broadcast — and they hope it goes more like the Week Zero win over Nebraska on ABC than the last two week’s losses on regional cable networks.
It’s hard to square what we saw in that 30-22 victory over Nebraska with what we’ve seen the last two weeks. Sure, Nebraska made more mistakes than UTSA and Virginia — and Virginia certainly looked more talented than the Huskers — but the disciplined, confident Illini team we saw in Week Zero has not reappeared the last two weeks. This is a huge test of this team’s mettle. Maryland’s offense is very talented and looks like it will overmatch an Illini defense that has given up 1,053 yards (685 passing yards) and 79 points during the last two games. But Maryland does have some flaws on the offensive line and defense, so if Illinois plays sound football and forces Maryland’s offense into some mistakes, they should have a chance. After all, the oddsmakers have this as a one-possession game.
In the grander scheme of things, despite a 1-2 start, Illinois does have some opportunities coming up in Bret Bielema’s first season if they can find a way to win this game. Purdue has an explosive passing attack, but we’ll see what they’re really made of tomorrow at No. 12 Notre Dame. Charlotte (2-0) upset Duke at home in Week One, but that’s a game Illinois needs to win. Later, Rutgers, Minnesota and Northwestern certainly don’t look unbeatable. But if the Illinois lose this — which most would expect given the defense’s issues the last two weeks — this is starting to look like another long, frustrating season for Illinois football.
We’ll have more thoughts coming up. In the meantime, here’s some pregame reading.Preview & Picks: Illinois vs. Maryland Overs/Unders: Maryland vs. Illinois Illini Inquirer Podcast: Illini great Arrelious Benn returns to campus Illini defense using 'next play mentality' after back-to-back struggles 'He's a beast': Freshman RB Josh McCray emerging in Illini RB room Coordinator Quotes: What Illini OC Tony Petersen said about Virginia loss, Maryland game The Deuce is loose: Spann's switch gives Illini 'a dynamic playmaker' at wideout Know the Foe: Inside MD Sports' Jeff Erman breaks down the Maryland Terrapins Film review: J Leman breaks down Illini defensive woes, signs of life from offense September 17, 2021