The play of the season happened because Caleb Rowe had no other choice, but also because the Maryland football team’s backup quarterback wholly entrusted one of his a wide receiver in double coverage. As Deon Long snaked between two Virginia defensive backs last Saturday, cutting toward the prayer Rowe chucked on third and 21 deep into the fourth quarter, it underscored a principle the Terrapins have stressed to their quarterbacks for weeks.
“Just put the ball in a position where those guys have a chance to go and get the ball,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “Probably more times than not they’re going to find a way to come down with it.”
Long’s grab preceded Rowe’s game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Dave Stinebaugh, but it was far from Saturday’s only example. Earlier that afternoon, Rowe uncorked a play-action deep ball to Long, who again was double-covered. But the Iowa Western transfer, whether by design or just plain luck, managed to volleyball the pass to Stefon Diggs.
Point being, with Long and Diggs lining up outside, who knows what can happen?
“You don’t always want to throw to covered guys, and it’s hard to trust yourself to throw the ball up and get careless with the ball,” said quarterback C.J. Brown, who returns from a concussion at Wake Forest before missing the Virginia win. “That’s a great example last Saturday of a guy just going up and making a play for us. Caleb put it up there, great spot for him, Deon went up between two guys and showed him who he was and made a great play. Coach says put it up in the air, one-on-one, anything like that, you just have to have faith and trust them. When they’re making plays like that it’s easier to trust them.”
Rowe’s career-high 332 yards against Virginia returned Maryland to peak passing form after the team’s disastrous lull at Florida State. Diggs nearly tripled his combined output against West Virginia and the Seminoles, while Long reached 98 yards receiving for the third time this season.
But believing in Long and Diggs, whose 966 combined receiving yards rank second among ACC duos, means not just heaving passes into stiff coverage and hoping they out-jump their defenders. In fact, it means the opposite. Instead of throwing downfield, jump balls can go behind the receivers, affording them opportunities to come back and catch it.
“I don’t think that it necessarily gives them confidence because I think they definitely have had confidence in those guys,” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said. “Instead of throwing it down the field they need to throw it behind the receiver so that they can come back to where he has an advantage.
“I think what we’ve been doing is putting too much air under the ball and throwing and leading the receiver down the field that the off coverage is running on top of it. … I think they are starting to understand that the leverage of the defender dictates what kind of ball that they have to throw.”
While completing an impressive 63.7 percent of his passes in five games, Brown has at times overthrown his receivers, putting them in harm’s way with high jump balls. So if the situation dictates, if Brown cannot squeeze his passes through a pinpoint window like he did so often during non-conference games, underthrowing might be the best scenario. Then, just hope for the best.
“I think it’s based on situations in the game,” Brown said. “Maybe if it’s a tight game, maybe not so much, especially if it’s on first or second down. If you have to make a critical play in the game, it’s on the line, you don’t want to be careless, you don’t want to turn it over, you don’t’ want to get in the habit of throwing into coverage. When they make play like that, it definitely helps.”
As Long hung onto the football with one defender clinging to his back, Diggs and Malcolm Culmer arrived to celebrate. Long stood up and stomped away, biceps bulging and fists clenched by his waist. He had made many unbelievable catches like this before, but never at Maryland had the trust helped so much.