For a few hours Saturday, a handful of Maryland defenders got to experience what it would be like to play wide receiver.
In fact, defensive back Darnell Savage Jr., who led the Terrapins with two interceptions, caught more passes than anyone on Rutgers’s offense.
The Terrapins recorded five interceptions in all, their most in a game since 1998, en route to a 34-7 victory over struggling Rutgers at Maryland Stadium.
Tino Ellis, Byron Cowart and Tre Watson also had one interception apiece as Maryland (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) celebrated homecoming by holding the Scarlet Knights to eight passing yards, its fewest allowed since at least 1980. Rutgers starting quarterback Artur Sitkowski threw four interceptions, compared to two completions, in 16 attempts. Backup Giovanni Rescigno was intercepted on his only pass of the day.
“They’re around the football,” Maryland interim coach Matt Canada said of his team’s defense. “When you’re standing and watching, those things don’t happen. When you’re chasing the ball and you’re around the ball, good things happen.”
Maryland held Rutgers (1-6, 0-4) scoreless until the final minute. Its repeated takeaways and stops allowed the offense to return to the field, where it scored more than 30 points for the fourth time this season.
Ty Johnson ignited the Terps when he sprinted for a 65-yard touchdown for the game’s first points in the final minute of the first quarter. The play accounted for more yards than the entire Maryland offense had accumulated to that point. Later, Johnson ran across the width of the field, opting to find an opening for a significant gain rather than succumbing to the crowd of defenders where he had initially gone.
By the time Johnson left the field after fueling the offense with nine carries for 132 yards, he had become just the fourth Maryland player to notch at least 4,000 career all-purpose yards, joining Torrey Smith, LaMont Jordan and Stefon Diggs. Johnson said he focuses on winning, not milestones. But he knew his mom would remind him.
“I’m about to see my mom,” Johnson said after the win. “She’s probably going to hug me and be like, ‘Oh my God.’”
With Johnson leading the group, Maryland continued its season-long trend of using a run-heavy attack. Canada said earlier this week that he is not concerned that the Terps’ passing offense entered the game last in the Big Ten and No. 123 out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision programs. On days like Saturday, when the run worked to the tune of 290 yards, the iffy passing game doesn’t matter.
Maryland quarterback Kasim Hill had an off-and-on performance. He overthrew receivers multiple times, sometimes when they were wide open, and completed 8 of 17 passes for 76 yards. But he also recorded a career-high three passing touchdowns to equal his total from the first five games of the season.
“There are always things that you can do better,” Hill said. “After every game, I want to have the feeling of winning. And we have that feeling today, and that’s the best feeling that you can have.”
Jeshaun Jones was one of those receivers who could have scored with an on-target pass, but he later made it 34-0 with an eight-yard touchdown, his first since he accounted for three in his remarkable college debut, the season opener against Texas. Another of Hill’s touchdowns, this one a 23-yard throw to Taivon Jacobs, came on the play after a Rutgers defender got a hand on the ball and nearly grabbed an interception.
Hill’s next touchdown pass, which was set up by Johnson’s 39-yard change-of-direction run, showcased good decision-making. Hill scrambled and pointed toward the middle of the end zone, directing running back Tayon Fleet-Davis, who then caught a 20-yard touchdown pass to make it 24-0. Even with a defender approaching, Hill made the right progression and his team benefited.
Hill’s only major error came in the second quarter when he fumbled after being sacked. But on Rutgers’s subsequent offensive play, Cowart intercepted a pass that had been tipped by Antoine Brooks Jr.
“All of a sudden, he’s supposed to go out there and be Joe Montana,” Canada said of Hill, a redshirt freshman who last year played just one full game and parts of two others before he suffered a torn ACL. “That’s not how it works. We sit in that room, all the blame comes on the quarterback. The quarterbacks understand that. They get too much blame and they get too much credit. He’s got to play better at times, but he made some plays today, too.”
Backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome played at multiple points throughout the game, just as he has done all season. Pigrome led a 73-yard drive that ended with a field goal to make it 27-0 in the third quarter. On that series, which only included runs, Pigrome had a carry for 23 yards. He finished the day completing 1 of 3 passes for nine yards, and with five carries for 38 yards.
Rutgers’s woes began early. After Maryland’s opening touchdown, its short kickoff landed just inside the 20-yard line between Rutgers players — like a blooped pop fly in baseball — and bounced back upfield into the hands of Maryland’s Chance Campbell. The Terps took over at the Rutgers 23 and got three points from Joseph Petrino’s 39-yard field goal four plays later.
The Scarlet Knights haven’t won since their season opener against Texas State, and only one of their six consecutive losses has been by fewer than 21 points. That was little concern to Maryland, which rebounded coming off a loss at Michigan to match its win total from last season.
“That locker room was awesome,” Canada said. “That’s why we do what we do. ... We’re going to enjoy it tonight. I promise.”