When Maryland starting quarterback C.J. Brown — his mission accomplished — retired to the sideline three series into the third quarter on Saturday against Florida International, his backup began to warm up near the water cooler. Caleb Rowe has battled for the backup spot all preseason, first outlasting Perry Hills and, on the week leading into the season opener, Ricardo Young. The job was his.
“We ended up making a decision toward the end of the week, that if we were going to use a number two it was going to be Caleb,” Coach Randy Edsall said after Maryland’s 43-10 win. “There were some things that I have seen out of him in practice that I thought we were going to go in that direction and we will probably have a little more definitive thing on Tuesday with that.
“I saw some things in practice that allowed him to be the number two guy. I still have confidence in Ricardo. You’ve got to be able to make those decisions and have guys get the reps and go in there. It’s more defined for the person going in, it’s even more defined for us as a team.”
Rowe, who played one series against North Carolina State and started against Boston College last season before suffering a season-ending ACL injury, played three series against Florida International. He led Maryland on a 70-yard scoring drive, completing passes to Nigel King (21 yards) and Levern Jacobs (7 and 9 yards) before Brad Craddock stuck a 23-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to complete the scoring.
Rowe attempted and completed just one pass after that series, a two-yard swing pass to running back Jacquille Veii. Veii, a true freshman, ran out the game clock with six straight carries on Rowe’s final possession.
With the way Brown played, engineering seven scoring drives in eight first-half series, the Terps will not need a backup, so long as the fifth-year junior stays healthy. But Edsall clearly wants to settle on a contingency plan, and for now that appears to be Rowe.
>> Will Likely was the first true freshman to appear for Maryland, lining deep on a punt return in the first quarter. When the punt reached its apex, Likely called for a fair catch, then began backpedaling. As the ball sailed behind Likely, he reached up and tried to make an awkward, over-the-shoulder grab. It squirted away, was recovered by FIU and set up a Panthers field goal.
Problem was, Edsall said Likely never should have been in that situation. A substitution mistake by an assistant sent Likely out instead of Stefon Diggs, but Edsall assumed responsibility for the error.
“That’s my fault,” Edsall said. “Will shouldn’t have been back there in the first place. Somebody made a substitution to put him back there. I looked out there, and I should have taken a timeout, because that wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. I talked to that person that did that, and he understands that he doesn’t make those decisions, but again that’s my responsibility.”
The other true freshmen to appear were: linebacker Yannick Ngakoue, linebacker Cavon Walker and offensive lineman Moise Larose. Edsall said he expected wide receiver DeAndre Lane to play, either in the slot or on special teams, but the Catonsville (Md.) High School graduate never got in.
>> Debuting two new starters along its right side in tackle Ryan Doyle and guard Michael Dunn, the offensive line held up surprisingly well. Its lone hiccup came on the left side, when tackle Mike Madaras got crushed by an oncoming blitzer, causing Brown to be hit mid-throw and lose a fumble. Trainers attended to Madaras after the play, observing his left knee, but the sophomore walked off on his own strength and returned the next series.
“I think the offensive line probably earned a passable grade today,” Edsall said. “Just being on the sidelines, there’s things from a technique standpoint that we have to get better at. For their first game, for some of them, I thought they did a good job. They’ll only get better.”
Under Rowe, the second-team offensive line was, from left to right, Jake Wheeler, Gary Harraka, Evan Mulrooney, Andrew Zeller and Larose.
>> Brandon Ross gained just 21 yards on 10 carries as the starting running back. Albert Reid, his backup, was slightly better, averaging five yards per carry on nine attempts. Veii outgained both in garbage time, finishing with 53 net yards and a 6.6 yards-per-carry average. Of course, Brown rushed for more yards (105) than everyone, including the entire FIU team.
>> Craddock was perfect from short distance on his three field-goal attempts, hitting from 20, 25 and 23 yards, but missed one of four extra points. Last season, the Australian import made 10 of 16 field goals and 23 of 25 extra points, an 80.5 overall kicking percentage. Craddock was visibly upset with himself after missing the extra point on Saturday. He also had three touchbacks on nine kickoffs.
The kickoff coverage team was Matt Robinson, Isaac Goins, Jeremiah Johnson, Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil, Alex Twine, Sean Davis, Shawn Petty, Abner Logan, Dexter McDougle and A.J. Hendy.
The kickoff return team was Hendy, Logan, Johnson, McDougle, Cudjoe-Virgil, Davis, Avery Thompson, P.J. Gallo and Kenneth Goins.
>> L.A. Goree led the defense with 10 tackles. Linebacker Marcus Whitfield had a team-high 1.5 sacks. Roman Braglio and Darius Kilgo had one apiece. Quinton Jefferson contributed 1.5 tackles for a loss. Twine forced a fumble on punt coverage that Goins recovered, leading to Craddock’s second field goal.
>> More on this tomorrow, but wide receiver Deon Long said he broke three bones in his back during training camp, and was cleared to play on Monday.
Edsall said he expects defensive lineman Zeke Riser, a graduate student transfer from Houston, to return to the rotation in “a week or two.” Riser suffered an unspecified ankle injury during preseason, but was off crutches and out of his walking boot on Saturday.
>> The announced attendance was 36,321, an increase of 5,000 (or 16 percent) over last season’s home opener against William & Mary. That 2012 crowd was the smallest to take in a Maryland home opener since 1997.
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