PISCATAWAY, N.J. — When quarterback Josh Jackson went down right before halftime against Rutgers, Maryland football’s offense easily could have fallen off course.
But on the opening play of the second half, running back Javon Leake returned the kickoff 100 yards for the touchdown, cutting across the field while turning up the right sideline with a convoy of blockers who paved the way to the endzone.
Just over two minutes later, fellow backfield mate Anthony McFarland Jr. took a handoff 80 yards to the house to give the Terps a 41-7 lead.
The Terps had an abundance of chunk plays on Saturday in their 48-7 win over the Scarlet Knights — their first Big Ten victory of the season.
“Obviously with Leake hitting the big play on the kickoff return, that ignited us,” coach Mike Locksley said. “The other thing we talked about was, when we executed on offense, we exploded with big plays.”
Maryland had touchdowns of 100, 80, 80, 42 and 23 yards on the day, and that doesn’t include a 50-yard reception by Tayon-Fleet Davis in the second quarter.
Whether it was Jackson or backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome running the show, Maryland was able to find success against a conference-worst Rutgers defense. The offense averaged a healthy 7.9 yards per play, and the Scarlet Knights seemed helpless to stop it.
The performance comes after two consecutive losses, including a season-worst performance against Penn State a week ago when the Terps averaged just 2.2 yards per play and failed to score a single point, leaving questions about the ability of the Scottie Montgomery-led offense.
“Those two losses, one of them was tough and the other one was sickening,” Pigrome said. “So for us to bounce back on this one with a big win is a great feeling.”
Maryland got its groove back on the first play from scrimmage, when Jackson found Dontay Demus Jr. on a slant off a run-pass option. The pass itself traveled just 12 yards in the air, but the speedy receiver ran the next 68 yards untouched for an 80-yard touchdown.
By the end of the afternoon, the Terps nearly quadrupled their total yardage from the week prior, gaining 490 against Rutgers compared to 128 last Friday.
While the offense made the biggest plays, the defense was just as impressive against a Rutgers team down its starting quarterback, best wide receiver and offensive coordinator.
The Scarlet Knights’ first drive of the game lasted over six minutes, as quarterback Johnny Langan ran multiple read options to drive the ball down the field. But after a third-down stop at the Maryland 20-yard line, Keiron Howard deflected a 37-yard field goal and kept Rutgers off the scoreboard.
Led by career-best performances from linebackers Keandre Jones, Shaq Smith and Ayinde Eley — all had a career-high in tackles — the Terps defense suffocated Rutgers’ offense the rest of the way. Outside of a lapsed coverage that led to the Scarlet Knights’ lone touchdown in the second quarter, the unit was nearly perfect.
“We’re defined in the present, about how we perform, and I was happy with the way [the defense] performed,” Locksley said. “Collectively on defense, when you hold the team to seven points, it’s pretty good there. ... I didn’t like our tackling early in the game, and I think we were reaching and grabbing a little bit, but we were able to get it cleaned up.”
Three things to know
1. Josh Jackson went down. Quarterback Josh Jackson left the game late in the second quarter with an ankle injury and never returned. Before exiting, the redshirt junior had completed 9-of-16 passes for 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Granted, 130 of those yards came on two plays — the touchdown to Demus and the pass to Fleet-Davis — but he looked pretty confident in the face of pressure.
2. All three running backs did stuff. Down Jake Funk and Lorenzo Harrison III to knee injuries, a once-crowded Terps backfield was cut down to three healthy rushers. All three dominated against Rutgers, as the trio of Anthony McFarland Jr., Javon Leake and Tayon Fleet-Davis combined for six touchdowns — four touchdowns, one score and another on a return. They also racked up 392 all-purpose yards, paving the way for a blowout victory.
“That’s a big loss, losing them last year and again this year,” Leake said. “So we’re playing for them right now. I know they’re watching, I know they’re proud of us. We still got three good backs. We’re really confident we can make plays.”
3. Defense led to multiple scores. When Maryland was leading 14-7 midway through the second quarter, Rutgers went for it on 4th-and-1 in its own territory. The Terps defense held strong for a run stuff, and on the very next play, Leake took a handoff 42 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead.
On the Scarlet Knights’ next drive, linebacker Ayinde Eley picked off a pass and returned it to the 2-yard line. On the very next play again, McFarland punched it in for a short score. Sometimes the best offense is a great defense, and while the former shined against Rutgers, it may not have been possible without the help of the defense.