Just days before the Maryland football program will likely learn the fates of head coach DJ Durkin, Athletic Director Damon Evans and University President Wallace Loh, the football team inched closer to bowl eligibility.
Following a 23-0 shutout at No. 18 Iowa last week, Maryland (5-3, 3-2) rebounded with a 63-33 blowout of Illinois (3-5, 1-4) at Maryland Stadium. Career outings from quarterback Kasim Hill (265 passing yards) and running back Javon Leake (four total touchdowns) propelled the offense in a game that was well out of reach by the fourth quarter.
“A week ago tomorrow, we went there and had a team meeting and said it’s time to get going,” interim head coach Matt Canada said. “And we wanted to be sitting here tonight – at 7:34 [p.m.] – and be 5-3. And [I’m] really, really proud of our football team and our players, and really everybody in our building for being 5-3 and winning tonight.”
Said Leake: “It starts in practice, and Coach Canada always stresses that. He gives the best speeches I’ve kind of heard before. But he always stresses, just be there for each other and just go out and play for each other and the results will be there.”
The win puts the Terrapins at 5-3, with four games remaining, two of which are against AP Top 25 teams Penn State and Ohio State. Maryland’s likely path to six wins and a bowl game will come in the next two weeks, with games against Michigan State on Nov. 3 and Indiana on Nov. 10.
Despite giving up 33 points, 21 of which came in the last 16 minutes when starters were removed from the game, Maryland continued to excel in situational defense. Illinois drove into the Maryland red zone four times and all four times, Illinois left with field goals. Trading touchdowns for field goals, Maryland was able to build a 28-12 halftime lead.
“We gave them some field position at times with some different situations there,” Canada said. “And to hold them – as you mentioned – to all field goals … Touchdowns over field goals, you’ll take that all day long.”
Maryland’s uncertain season is set to become more clear in the coming days, with the University System of Maryland Board of Regents set to announce personnel decisions by Oct. 30. That could include the recommendations to retain or fire Durkin, Evans and/or Loh.
The board of regents was briefed Friday on the results of the investigation into the culture of Maryland football, which concluded that the program was not “toxic,” but filled with cases of abuse and missteps at every level of the athletic department. The 17-member committee also met Friday with Durkin, Evans and Loh at separate times.
As has been the case all season, Canada refused to make mention of the investigation when asked about its effect on the team and instead stuck to the team-first, day-by-day mantra he has emphasized since being named interim head coach on Aug. 11.
“All we talked about was sitting here today and getting to answer questions from you, talking about we had five wins,” Canada said. “And that’s all we talked about. Getting better every day. Sticking together every day. Leaning on each other every day. That’s all we talked about. And they did a great job.”