In an old-fashioned Big Ten defensive battle Sept. 17, Maryland and Illinois struggled to consistently move the ball throughout. However, junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and the Terps’ offense found a rhythm late in the fourth quarter, and the defensive line got pressure on the passer down the stretch as well.
That combination allowed Maryland to climb back from a late 17-10 deficit, as the Terps scored 10 unanswered points in the final three minutes of regulation en route to a 20-17 victory in Champaign, Ill. For the first time since 2016, Maryland is 3-0 to start the season.
“Really proud of those kids in the locker room, never felt they panicked,” head coach Michael Locksley said postgame. “Never felt they quit.”
Here are three players that stood out on Friday night:
No. 1: Defensive Lineman Greg Rose
With Maryland trailing 17-10 and in need of a defensive stand, senior defensive lineman Greg Rose delivered. The senior from Los Angeles surged forward and swallowed up Illinois running back Reggie Love short of first down yardage on a critical third-and-2 opportunity in the fourth quarter.
That pivotal stop forced Illinois to punt and gave Maryland’s offense the ball back with 4:50 left in regulation. The offense scored a game-tying touchdown with 2:13 to go.
However, Illinois was given one more opportunity to close out the game. On that final drive, Rose took over with back-to-back crucial sacks. On the first sack, he pushed left tackle Vederian Lowe off his spot and into Brandon Peters, knocking the quarterback over.
Yet, the DeMatha Catholic alum was just getting started. On the ensuing play, Rose engulfed Peters in the pocket as he meandered around looking for an open receiver. Prior to Rose’s two sacks, Illinois had a first-and-10 from its own 36-yard line. That turned into a third-and-28 situation from its own 18-yard line.
Rose’s consecutive sacks wiped out Illinois’ opportunity for a potential game-winning drive. Instead, it set up Maryland’s offense with tremendous field position, as Blake Hayes was forced to punt from his own end zone.
Rose, put on scholarship a few weeks ago, was an integral part of the three most important defensive plays in Maryland’s comeback victory. The Terps finished with six total sacks, none more vital than Rose’s pair down the stretch.
No. 2: Safety Nick Cross
Maryland’s secondary entered the game depleted, as junior cornerback Deonte Banks couldn’t play due to an injury. That depth took another hit when junior cornerback Levontae Gater was ejected for targeting midway through the first quarter.
However, Cross, the leader on the back end, elevated his game with another strong effort. He finished with seven total tackles, three pass breakups and an interception. One of the team’s leading tacklers this season, Cross’s impact was evident all over the field with his physicality and thunderous hitting ability.
His most impressive pass breakup came in the latter stages of the second quarter, preventing an Illini touchdown. On a third-and-5 from the 7-yard line, Peters looked for 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight Daniel Barker. Not biting on the run fake, Cross was hip-to-hip with Barker and used his outstretched arm to knock away the pass, forcing the Illini to settle for a field goal with 1:27 left in the first half.
The junior safety continued to leave his stamp on the game in the second half just when the Terps needed it most. After Maryland’s second fumble in three plays in the third quarter, Illinois seemed poised to take its first lead of the game at the Terps’ 25-yard-line.
However, on the ensuing play, Cross continued to be opportunistic. He picked off Peters’ overthrown pass, though his 46-yard return was wiped out. Maryland’s offense didn’t convert after the turnover, but Cross’ interception prevented the Illini from taking the lead.
No. 3: Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa
Friday evening represented a new environment for the young signal caller, his first ever Big Ten road contest with a raucous home crowd. It took him some time to settle in, but Tagovailoa delivered down the stretch when the Terps needed him most. He finished 32-of-43 with 350 yards and a touchdown.
Trailing by a touchdown with 4:50 left, Tagovailoa efficiently led his team down the field to tie the score at 17. Feeding off the momentum of consecutive first downs, the offense played with a faster tempo pushing the ball up field.
His most impressive throw of the drive came with Maryland’s offense at Illinois’ 34-yard line. With pressure mounting in his face, Tagovailoa confidently delivered a strike to junior receiver Jeshaun Jones in stride. The precise throw avoided the leaping arms of several defensive lineman and allowed Jones to utilize his explosive speed.
He broke several tackles after the catch, pushing forward to the Illini 10-yard line. On the ensuing play, Tagovailoa checked down to redshirt senior running back Tayon Fleet-Davis on a swing route for the game-tying score with 2:13 left.
Yet, Tagovailoa wasn’t done. Maryland’s offense needed one more successful drive to close out the game in regulation. With less than a minute remaining, Tagovailoa connected with Rakim Jarrett across the middle for a 26-yard reception, setting up the Terps in the red zone.
Shortly after, senior Joseph Petrino drilled the 32-yard field goal that secured Maryland’s important conference road victory in Champaign.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics