Interim Maryland coach Matt Canada often says he doesn’t care much for stats. As he said going into Saturday’s homecoming game against Rutgers, “Stats are for losers.”
Except for when his team is the winner.
Even Canada conceded after the Terps blew out the Scarlet Knights, 34-7, before an announced crowd of 32,995 at Maryland Stadium that he didn’t mind his team’s defensive stats that complemented the offense he was hired to run.
On top of senior running back Ty Johnson’s 132 rushing yards — including a 65-yard touchdown run — and redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill’s three touchdown passes were the defense’s five interceptions that inspired Canada most.
Canada, who last week referred to himself as a “cheerleader” for the defense, said he didn’t know the defense had five picks — Maryland’s most in a single game since a seven-interception showing against Duke in 1998 — until he came off the field after the game.
“They were around the football. When you’re around the football, good things happen,” Canada said. “We had a couple of deflections. … That’s great defense, but it’s great team football. Really, really proud how hard our guys are playing and our defense is doing a great job. They played really well today.”
Maryland (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) held Rutgers (1-6, 0-4) to a 179 total yards — 107 rushing by freshman running back Isaih Pacheco, who scored his team’s only touchdown with 43 seconds left to ruin what would have been the Terps’ first shutout in five years — and harassed the two Scarlet Knights quarterbacks into 2-for-17 passing for 8 yards.
“When you struggle to run the ball and protect the quarterback, we struggle to get open against the man coverage, we obviously had five turnovers, it’s going to be tough to win a game,” said Rutgers coach Chris Ash, whose team has lost six straight by an average of 29 points a game.
Much of it had to do with Maryland’s opportunistic defense. After becoming the first Maryland player to have two interceptions in a game since Sean Davis in 2015, senior safety Darnell Savage Jr. said the overall improvement of the defense has to do with the confidence each player has in the entire unit.
“As a defense collectively, we’re all bought in,” Savage said. “I think we all go on the field trusting each other. It’s not like we go out on the field and I’m worried, ‘Is this guy going to get his job done, so I’ve got to slack on my job to help him a little bit?’ I think we’re just in it together. We’ve got a lot of trust and love for each other and we don’t want to let our brother down.”
While not as consistent on offense as on defense, the Terps still made more than enough plays to move comfortably ahead, 24-0, by halftime, and avoided second-guessing themselves for the plays they left behind, particularly by Hill. Despite throwing for a career high in touchdowns, the redshirt freshman quarterback finished just 8-for-17 for 76 yards.
Johnson’s 65-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter helped overcome a slow start offensively. Maryland couldn’t take advantage of Rutgers’ gaffe on the ensuing kickoff, where it let Maryland freshman linebacker Chance Campbell (Calvert Hall) cleanly field it at the Scarlet Knights 23, settling for a 39-yard field goal by freshman Joseph Petrino. Hill then showed why Canada is excited about and confident in the former Gilman star.
After Savage’s first interception, Maryland moved from the Rutgers 35 to the 14 mostly on the ground before a holding penalty pushed the ball back. On second-and-19 from the 23, Hill threw over the head of graduate receiver Taivon Jacobs in the end zone. He then threw a bullet to Jacobs for a touchdown on third down for a 17-0 lead.
On Maryland’s next possession, Hill provided some interference for Johnson’s change-of-direction 39-yard run to the Rutgers 20. After the long run, Johnson was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. But Hill then directed sophomore running back Tayon Fleet-Davis to run toward the back of the end zone, where Hill thew a perfect lead pass for a touchdown and a 24-0 lead.
Hill’s third touchdown went to freshman wide receiver Jeshaun Jones in the third quarter, an 8-yard pass that was fit between and behind three defenders. Earlier in the game, Hill missed on what might have been a long touchdown by badly overthrowing a wide-open Jones on what should have been an easy 20-yard throw.
Aware of his quarterback’s erratic play this season, Canada said, “When the little man gets on your shoulder [and] says, ‘I missed a throw,’ you can’t listen to that guy. Play the next play. The only play that matters is the next play. Win, lose or draw, you’ve got to move on. That’s the same way on the field. … Anything that doesn’t work is my fault. Kasim’s working really hard.”
Said Hill: “After every single game, you always go back and watch the film and learn from the things that you could’ve done better. ... I would say that, after every game, I want to have the feeling of winning and we have that feeling today. It’s the best feeling you can have."
Coming into the game as 23-point favorites — a role the Terps have rarely played and struggled with in their 35-14 defeat to Temple earlier this season, when they were favored by 15 — Maryland equaled its win total from last season and moved within two victories of bowl eligibility.
Though the second-half schedule is tougher, starting with next week’s game at Iowa and finishing with ranked Ohio State and Penn State, Canada said he feels good about the direction Maryland is going.
“Our players are excited to play,” Canada said. “I think our kids are playing hard. That’s the bottom line.”