Maryland football opens Big Ten play Friday night with a road matchup against the Illinois Fighting Illini. It is the first trip for Maryland to Illinois since they joined the Big Ten back in 2014, and they are looking to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2016. To find out more about the Illini, we spoke with Jackson Janes of The Daily Illini.
Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
The Fighting Illini have dropped their last two after taking down Nebraska to open their 2021 campaign. What have been the primary contributors to the 2-game skid?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one problem after back-to-back embarrassing losses over these last two weeks. Brandon Peters has been out the last two weeks, and though Artur Sitkowski has been fine filling in for him, Peters is more reliable. Art was a bit too careless with his passes at times, while his receivers had several drops on plays that could’ve changed the momentum of games.
The defense has been the biggest issue, though. The secondary allowed over 400 passing yards last week and had absolutely zero answers for Brennan Armstrong and a talented Cavalier receiving corps. The defensive line also deserves a bit of the blame, as Armstrong consistently found himself with all the time in the world to scan the field for a target. Last week was an embarrassment for this defense, and I don’t see things turning around any time soon.
Despite a slow start, what players have stood out so far this season?
Isaiah Williams, and it isn’t even close. Williams made the transition from quarterback to receiver this offseason, and he’s already become the top target for whoever is under center. He has 19 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown, and he looks right at home in his new position. His ability to make defenders miss and pick up some extra yards after the play, so the Terrapins need to keep an eye on him.
There aren’t too many other guys that I’ve been overly impressed with otherwise, but Deuce Spann is another guy who’s moved from QB to WR, and he’s made some big catches these last two weeks. He’s only made three catches this year, but he’s averaging over 36 yards per attempt, so I think that speaks for itself.
The Terps and the Illini have only faced off once before, a 63-33 win in College Park in 2018. Will that unfamiliarity give either side an edge they may not have against a conference opponent with more history?
I don’t think it necessarily gives either side an edge, but the fact that Michael Locksley and Ron Zook both spent significant time in Champaign could potentially give Maryland an edge. Obviously, this is a whole new staff with new systems and new players, but coming back to your old stomping grounds always seems to add a sense of motivation and intrigue.
Both of these teams are returning several key players on both sides of the ball, so I think there’s enough film out there for both teams to come in prepared on Friday night.
While these two teams may not know each other well, Maryland offensive coordinator Dan Enos served under the same position for Illinois head coach Bret Bielema when they were at Arkansas. Will this familiarity be of any use for Illinois’ defense as they prepare to deal with a Maryland offense that has scored 92 points in two games?
Simple answer: no. I just don’t think this Illinois defense has enough talent to stop all of Maryland’s offensive weapons. Like you said, 92 points in two games is some feat, regardless of the opponent, and I don’t think this Illini defense has the endurance or skill to contain Taulia Tagovailoa, Dontay Demus Jr., Rakim Jarrett and Tayon Fleet-Davis for 60 minutes.
Illinois wins if… it can establish a run game and hope Maryland’s offense has an uncharacteristic off game.
Maryland wins if… it can establish its dominance through the air and get both Demus and Jarrett going early in the game.