Illinois to host Maryland, looks to end losing skid

Illinois+players+run+out+of+the+tunnel+before+the+teams+game+against+the+University+of+Texas+at+San+Antonio+on+Sept.+4.+The+Illini+look+to+get+back+in+the+win+column+against+the+Maryland+Terrapins+on+Friday+night.

Ryan Ash

Illinois players run out of the tunnel before the team’s game against the University of Texas at San Antonio on Sept. 4. The Illini look to get back in the win column against the Maryland Terrapins on Friday night.

By Wes Hollenberg, Staff Writer

The Illini will look to turn around their two-game losing streak Friday night at 8 p.m. when they host the Maryland Terrapins at Memorial Stadium.

Maryland is 2-0 on the season while boasting elite stats in all facets of the game, but it’s important to contextualize this record. So far, the Terrapins have only played nonconference teams in West Virginia and Howard, who they beat 62-0.

A better reference point for Maryland may be their slate last season, in which they went 2-3 with similar personnel. Since then, they’ve lost their lead rusher, Jake Funk. Tayon Fleet-Davis has stepped up in his stead, averaging 94.5 rushing yards in Maryland’s first two games.

“They run the ball effectively,” said head coach Bret Bielema. “Very, very balanced on first down. Almost 50/50. You can look at some specific things within that number. (They) get the ball to the perimeter a lot to their wide receivers. Defensively, (they have) an advantageous group that has improved greatly from a year ago. Had transition at both offense and defense as a coaching philosophy, and in special teams with Coach Zook, so there’s a lot of newness through those two games that hadn’t shown up until this year.”

Illinois, however, has its own set of problems that it has to work through ahead of the matchup. Early in the Illini’s season opener against Nebraska, QB1 Brandon Peters went down with a shoulder injury, and he’s finally been cleared to play ahead of this week’s matchup. While Artur Sitkowski looked poised to potentially make a run at the starting job after a strong relief performance in game one, the offense has been rocky ever since. Bielema confidently named Peters this week’s starting quarterback at his weekly press conference.

Bielema noted this week as having a healthier offense from top to bottom when compared to the past two weeks, which could potentially aid in helping the Illini score earlier on in games. In both of their last two matchups, the Illini went scoreless for the entire first quarter.

Defensively, Maryland was one of the weakest teams against the run in the Big Ten last season but was a top-three defense against the pass. If Peters isn’t able to generate much, Illinois may need to look to players like Josh McCray and Chase Brown to get yardage on the ground.

While the start to Illinois’ season may be worse than expected, Bielema has kept his focus squarely on the future.

“The problem is everyone wants to focus on the fact that we’re 1-2,” Bielema said. “In my previous experiences, when we’ve been 3-0 and in experiences I’ve been 1-2, the fact that you focus on the week at hand is all that really matters. If you start trying to figure where you’re going to be at the end if something hypothetically happens, you’ve just wasted some time in your life that you’ll never get back. Everything we do is about the preparation for Maryland.”

@WesHollenberg