Rutgers quarterback Artur Sitkowski threw deep down the left sideline midway through the third quarter Saturday and completed his fourth pass of the day to the wrong team.
Maryland football safety Darnell Savage reeling in his second interception of the game was apparently the last straw for Scarlet Knights coach Chris Ash, who had left his freshman in the contest to that point despite a disastrous day. Giovanni Rescigno replaced Sitkowski, but Rutgers’ offense remained dysfunctional, and the Terps kept moving the ball and scoring points against a meager defense.
Quarterback Kasim Hill set a career high with three touchdown passes and running back Ty Johnson moved into fourth all-time in Maryland’s rushing and all-purpose yards lists as the Terps clobbered Rutgers in their homecoming game, 34-7. Maryland’s five interceptions were its most since 1998.
“I honestly didn’t know how many there were until we came inside,” interim head coach Matt Canada said. “I’m just like the cheerleader for our defense. They did a great job. … When you’re around the football, good things happen.”
The Terps (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) didn’t have any of the troubles offensively they did last week against No. 12 Michigan’s top-ranked defense. Johnson found a hole and broke away for a 65-yard score late in the first quarter, putting Maryland on top after an otherwise sloppy opening period.
Then, midway through the second quarter, a wall of Rutgers (1-6, 0-4) defenders left no obvious path forward for Johnson. So the tailback stopped, reversed field completely and scampered to the left for 39 yards to compile the 11th 100-yard rushing game of his career.
“We want to be 1-0 every week,” Johnson said. “Obviously, you know, we had the ability to be 6-0, but we’re not dwelling on that.”
After completing five passes for 62 yards last week, Hill rebounded as he threw three passing scores against the Scarlet Knights. He found wide receiver Taivon Jacobs for 23 yards in the second quarter, lofted a throw over a defender into running back Tayon Fleet-Davis’ arms for a 20-yard score and fired a pass to wide receiver Jeshaun Jones for another touchdown in the third.
But Hill finished 8-for-17 with just 76 yards, missing key passes in a performance that showed room for further growth. One play before finding Jacobs in the end zone, a would-be interception slipped through a Rutgers defender’s hands. Late in the second quarter, Jones was left hopping up and down in frustration after Hill overshot him with ample room to turn upfield. Hill’s next pass missed tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo, too.
“After every single game, you always go back and watch the film, and learn from the things that you could’ve done better,” Hill said. “There’s always things that you can do better.”
But those shortfalls wouldn’t come close to mattering against the Scarlet Knights. Sitkowksi threw four interceptions and completed two passes for eight yards. His backup, Giovanni Rescigno, entered and promptly threw another pick.
“Watching [Sitkowksi], he obviously struggled,” Ash said “We completed two passes for eight yards and threw five picks, so I can’t say that was great.”
The play after Hill was hit from the blindside and fumbled in the second quarter, defensive back Antoine Brooks tipped Sitkowski’s pass and defensive lineman Byron Cowart brought down the ball to end any hopes for Rutgers to get back into the game with a short field.
“As a defense collectively, we’re all bought in,” Savage said. “We all go out on the field trusting each other.”
Before Sitkowski’s dreadful day, no quarterback since at least 2000 had managed as many interceptions with so few passing yards. It was painful to watch at times, but Maryland’s defense feasted, holding Rutgers scoreless for 59 minutes before a touchdown with 43 seconds left ended the Terps’ shutout bid.
As Johnson spoke with media postgame, he anticipated his mother would be more excited for him climbing the Maryland record books than he is. He’s more focused on the week-to-week success of his team, and on homecoming Saturday, the Terps found plenty of it.
“When it was zero on the clock, we wanted to be 4-2. Three to nothing, 99 to 98, whatever it was,” Canada said. “We’re going to enjoy it tonight. I promise.”