Illinois was a pleasant surprise in the Big Ten last season, but recreating that success has been unattainable for the Illini this season. Following their loss to Nebraska last weekend, Illinois has lost all three of their conference games and will be on the road in Maryland for their fourth conference game this weekend. We’ll preview the matchup before going over my play for the first half.
In 2022, the Fighting Illini had a passable offense and an excellent defense, but this season, they have a weak offense and below-average defense. By scoring just seven points in their loss to Nebraska last weekend, Illinois is now averaging just 19.2 points per game and ranks 73rd in offensive EPA.
Ole Miss transfer quarterback Luke Altmeyer comes into this weekend with six touchdowns and eight interceptions, which has the Illini ranked 61st in offensive success rate on pass plays. The Illini has abandoned their run game up to this point as well, averaging 31 rushing attempts per game. In turn, leading rusher Reggie Love Jr. has managed just 252 yards and one touchdown this season.
Illinois still has Jer’Zhan Newton on defense, but his 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss have not been enough to keep the Illini from allowing an average of 401.5 yards per game. Losing a handful of guys to the draft has turned the Illini from one of the better units in the conference to ranking 114th in defensive success rate this season.
After putting up a solid outing against a mediocre Nebraska offense, the Illini now have to deal with Taulia Tagovailoa and the Terrapins offense. Even after losing 37-17 to Ohio State last weekend, Maryland is still 33rd in the country in total yards per game and 16th in offensive EPA.
Averaging 276.7 passing yards per game this season, Tagovailoa is posting a 14:5 touchdown to interception ratio and has Maryland ranked 25th in offensive success rate on pass plays. Defensively, the Terrapins have also had success, holding opponents to an average of 349.4 yards per game and opposing rushing games to just three yards per carry.
The point total for the first half of this game is set at 27 points, and I’ll be taking the under for my play. Illinois has hit the first quarter under in seven of their last 12 games, and Maryland has cashed it in eight of their last ten games. Both offenses have been slow starting this season, and with the way Maryland’s defense has played, I think Illinois will struggle to produce scoring drives.
Illinois is 20th in the country in pass-play percentage, and it will be tough to establish that game plan this weekend against Maryland since they are 42nd in EPA per pass-play. The Illini have struggled as it is to keep drives alive, ranking 103rd in third-down conversions. Their lack of third-down production is partially due to bad offensive line play, which again plays into the strengths of the Terrapins defense.
Against power five opponents, Maryland’s offense is averaging 18 points per game in the first half, and they’ll be dealing with an Illini defense that ranks 34th in yards allowed per pass and 31st in opponent completion percentage. While the Terrapins will likely still find success offensively, if Illinois can keep them around their average, then I like these two teams to continue to be profitable to the first half under.
1H Under 27 (-110)