The Saturdays came and went, and Brandon Ross was stuck on the sideline, watching his teammates grind, wondering when that hamstring would finally heal so he could join them on the field.
When his time finally came, Ross had a solid collegiate debut Saturday against West Virginia, though it only made the Maryland backfield more crowded. The true freshman wound up with 20 carries for just 52 yards, a paltry 2.6 yards per carry, but impressed Coach Randy Edsall with a dazzling variety of spin moves that left Mountaineers defenders lunging at air.
“Brandon made some really nice runs,” Edsall said. “A couple of times we thought he could have read it a little differently, but that’s his first college game. I thought he did some good things, some things he has to work on.”
The projected starter through the preseason, Ross instead sat out Maryland’s first three games. He aimed to return against Connecticut, but didn’t practice with the first team the entire week. Leading up to Maryland’s trip to Mountaineer Field, the Terps rotated Ross with Justus Pickett, Albert Reid and Wes Brown during practice. All four were listed as co-starters. No hints were given as to who would start, even to the running backs themselves.
“We really didn’t know who was going to start until later in the week because we all had to show coach what he wanted to see,” said Ross, who found out Thursday he would start. “It was good to get the nod. I felt good out there.”
Ross, with a self-described “north-south kind of element,” didn’t have a carry longer than nine yards. His most productive series came in the third quarter, when he had rushes of seven, six, five and five yards, picking up two first downs in the process.
“I’m also the kind of guy who’s going to try to make things happen when nothing’s there,” Ross said. “That’s not always a good thing, but I think that’s something I can bring to the table.”
Ross received 20 out of Maryland’s 35 carries, but the breakdown moving forward will be anyone’s guess. Reid had four carries for 20 yards including a 15-yard burst. Wes Brown, who broke out against Connecticut, got just two carries, and Justus Pickett, the team’s leading rusher before Brown’s 74-yard effort versus the Huskies, only had four catches on third-down packages.
“Albert went in and was productive, Justus made some good plays when he was in there on third down,” Edsall said. “Wes got in there a little bit. We saw that kind of rotation, and that helps us. For his first college game, I thought Brandon did a nice job. A lot of things to work on, and he’ll get better.”
Ross was a little more critical, citing necessary improvement in his pass protection and having “left some yards on the field.” But with all four running backs at last healthy, the Terps can begin hammering out a consistent rotation within the backfield.
“I especially liked the way in the second half when we were able to pick up first downs,” Ross said. “I thought we controlled time of possession. Thing is, we didn’t capitalize on it. That’s what hurt us. I definitely think the run game has improved a lot.”