The 48-7 result will stand as the official record of this game, but Jackson’s injury was the more important outcome, at least until it becomes clear how long he will be out with a high ankle sprain. Jackson returned to the sideline in the second half, seemingly in good spirits while wearing a walking boot and on crutches.
Two Rutgers defenders collided with Jackson as he released the ball on a pass play with 22 seconds remaining in the second quarter and Maryland leading 27-7 with the ball on its 41-yard line. After the game, Coach Michael Locksley defended the decision to continue to push for points by passing at that point, noting how Maryland had timeouts and he wanted to “create momentum and steal points because we knew we were getting the ball in the second half.”
Jackson completed 9 of 16 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
Jackson, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, quickly established himself as Maryland’s most reliable option at the position before struggling in consecutive losses to Temple and Penn State. But led by backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome, Maryland’s offense never slowed following Jackson’s injury. Pigrome was perhaps more prepared to play after taking about half the first-team reps in practice this week because of Jackson’s recent inconsistency.
“Going into the game, our thinking was if Josh were to struggle that we would have to make a change there to get us going because this was a game we needed to win,” Locksley said, adding that he was pleased with Jackson’s first-half performance and decision-making.
Anything less than an emphatic win would have intensified concerns, especially given the missing pieces on Rutgers’ squad. The Scarlet Knights fired coach Chris Ash and offensive coordinator John McNulty six days ago, leaving former tight ends Nunzio Campanile in charge. Both Rutgers quarterback Art Sitkowski and running back Raheem Blackshear, the team’s best offensive player, did not play while reportedly holding on to their ability to redshirt this season.
After last week’s blowout loss against Penn State showed how far Maryland still stands from the conference’s top tier, Saturday helped prove these Terps aren’t in danger against the conference’s worst team either. The Terps (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) rattled off explosive plays throughout the game, starting with Dontay Demus Jr.’s 80-yard touchdown catch on Maryland’s first offensive snap. The team’s top three running backs — Anthony McFarland, Javon Leake and Tayon Fleet-Davis — all had standout performances, combining for the six other touchdowns and showing off their ability in flashy bursts.
“It’s a byproduct of the skill we have,” Locksley said of the running backs’ ability to create plays of massive gains.
Leake scored three times, including on a 100-yard kickoff return that began the second half and a 42-yard rushing touchdown late in the second quarter. During halftime, the team knew it had a chance to grab firm hold of the advantage, and the players talked about Leake scoring on that opening kickoff.
“House call! House call!” Leake said, recounting the halftime message from his teammates. “We’ve got this, Javon! Let’s get it!”
Fleet-Davis erupted for consecutive massive gains, a 50-yard catch followed by a 23-yard receiving score, during a second-quarter drive when Jackson was still in at quarterback. McFarland, who Locksley said still isn’t 100 percent back from a minor ankle injury, impressed as Maryland’s leading rusher with 87 yards on seven carries, a total primarily fueled by his 80-yard score in the third quarter.
Earlier in the game, McFarland scored on a two-yard run one play after Ayinde Eley’s interception and 39-yard return. Eley said his teammates will jokingly give him a hard time for not reaching the end zone, but “if I get another opportunity, I’ll be sure to get in there.”
The offense worked behind a makeshift offensive line, playing mostly with just two first-choice players. Three redshirt freshman — left tackle Jaelyn Duncan, right guard Austin Fontaine and right tackle Spencer Anderson — started against Rutgers.
“I can’t give those guys enough credit for how they stepped in and played today,” said McKennie, who joined Sean Christie as the two veteran linemen in the game Saturday. “We had three 18-, 19-year-olds playing in a Big Ten football game today and got a win.”
It took some time for the offensive line to perform at its best, particularly the group had to adjust blocking schemes since Rutgers’ defensive front played differently than what it had shown on tape. But ultimately the unit paved the way for 200 rushing yards.
Pigrome played well when he took on relief duties, throwing for 111 yards and completing 13 of 18 passes. He said is more comfortable now than at the end of last season when he stepped in after starter Kasim Hill tore his ACL. Pigrome has shed the knee brace he wore since tearing his ACL in 2017 and said, “I feel back to myself.”
Maryland’s defense effectively contained Rutgers (1-4, 0-3), particularly in the second half. The Scarlet Knights’ lone score tied the game at 7 early in the second quarter, just after a well-executed double-reverse flea flicker when Langan found Bo Melton for a 49-yard gain despite pass interference. That play set up Langan’s three-yard scoring run.
Locksley called the game a “bounce-back win” for his group, which gave up 59 points against Penn State last weekend and had struggled offensively in the previous two games.
“I wanted to see how our team would respond,” Locksley said. “We had two tough weeks where we didn’t get it done. Our guys worked [too hard not to] reap the benefits of their hard work on Saturday.”