COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Maryland opened up its passing game and fortified an already formidable running attack with seldom-used Javon Leake.
The result was a feel-good 63-33 rout over Illinois, one that was definitely worth singing about well into Saturday night.
“The locker room, we’re in there singing that (Maryland fight) song, those guys are excited,” interim coach Matt Canada said. “We found a way to win. We played good on offense, good on defense, good on special teams.”
Leake rushed for three touchdowns and scored on a 97-yard kickoff return , Kasim Hill had the best passing game of his career and Maryland held the Fighting Illini without a touchdown until late in the third quarter.
Leake is the first Maryland player to score four TDs in a game since D.J. Adams in the 2010 Military Bowl. Leake, a sophomore, finished with 140 yards rushing, including scores of 64, 27 and 43 yards.
“The offensive line did a great job today,” Leake said. “They just set me up to make plays.”
Prior to Saturday, Leake had 16 career carries, just nine this season.
“He was not at the top of the list in the running back room as the season began,” Canada said. “He continued to practice hard.”
The victory left the Terrapins (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) one win short of becoming bowl eligible, no small feat for a team that was rocked by the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair and has been playing under Canada since August.
Despite of the uncertainty surrounding the program, Maryland has already exceeded its win total (4) from last year.
“The whole point of the story is, our guys have checked their egos and just want to win,” Canada said. “We’re sitting here 5-3 with a bunch of kids who are playing so hard for each other and care for each other.”
Canada, the team’s offensive coordinator, took over for DJ Durkin, who is on administrative leave during an investigation of the culture of the program.
The probe began soon after McNair collapsed on the practice field and died of heatstroke in June. The report is complete. Now, after the commission determined there are problems with the culture of the program, the school and the football team await the fallout.
Reggie Corbin ran for 155 yards and a touchdown for the Fighting Illini (3-5, 1-4). Illinois had yielded 158 points during a three-game skid, and its streak of forcing a turnover in 21 consecutive games came to an end.
“It’s kind of beyond words the feelings we have right now,” coach Lovie Smith said. “There’s been some cracks that we’ve seen, but not like this. We knew what was at stake, just thought we would play a lot better. I thought our preparation was good, but as you can see it was not.”
Starting quarterback M.J. Rivers was knocked from the game in the second quarter on a hit by Tre Watson, who was ejected for targeting. Rivers went 3 for 13 for 45 yards.
Leake’s kickoff return and 64-yard run, along with two touchdown passes by Hill , provided Maryland with a 28-9 halftime lead. The Terrapins tacked on three touchdowns in the third quarter, including a 27-yard run by Leake and Hill’s third touchdown pass.
Hill was removed from the game late in the third quarter with the score 49-19. He went 11 for 19 for a career-high 265 yards, and his three TD passes tied a career best.
Playing Illinois for the first time, Maryland set a school record for most points in a Big Ten game since joining the conference in 2014. The Terps finished with 712 yards in offense.
It was a redemptive performance for a team that mustered only 115 yards one week earlier in a 23-0 loss to Iowa.
Watson leads the Terps in tackles and is tied for the team lead in interceptions, but this is the second time he’s been booted for targeting.
Watson played three seasons for Illinois before coming to Maryland this year.
Johnson, Maryland’s leading rusher, missed the second half with a leg injury. He ranks fourth on the team career list with 2,597 yards.
Illinois: The Illini have a bad defense, plain and simple, especially when unable to force turnovers.
“Big plays are really hurting us,” Smith conceded.
Maryland: Well, for one game at least, the Terrapins proved they can pass as well as throw. That should be an asset in upcoming games against Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.
Illinois hosts Minnesota, which defeated Indiana 38-31 Saturday for its first Big Ten win of the season.
Maryland faces visiting Michigan State (5-3, 3-2), which defeated Purdue 23-13 on Saturday.
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