WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – C.J. Brown strolled into the Maryland football team’s first bye week leading the ACC in total yardage. He had proved the doubters wrong, emphatically no less, by returning from the ACL tear before the 2012 season stronger than ever. The Terrapins were undefeated, fresh off a 37-0 drubbing of West Virginia, and Brown was the bearded face of all that was right at Gossett Team House.
Since then, Brown absorbed a helmet-to-chest blow against Florida State that led to a concussion, missed the Virginia game as Maryland squeaked out a one-point victory and was benched Saturday afternoon at Wake Forest. His interception total went from one to three against the Demon Deacons. He took three hard sacks and several more jarring hits from a relentless Wake Forest defensive line during a 34-10 drubbing. So at halftime, with his team trailing 24-3, Maryland Coach Randy Edsall approached backup quarterback Caleb Rowe and told him, “Just be ready.”
Rowe, whose fourth-quarter bomb helped Maryland avoid an upset against the Cavaliers last Saturday at Byrd Stadium, entered after Brown took his third sack, a 14-yard loss from Zach Thompson that again had Nathan Renfro punting from the Maryland end zone. Many Terps fans figured it was about time. Edsall, he said later, had simply seen enough.
“I just felt that things I saw, it was the best thing for our team to do to try and move the ball in the second half,” Edsall said.
It worked, if only briefly. Like he did against Florida State when Brown left Doak Campbell Stadium, Rowe started hot. He found Amba Etta-Tawo for 17 yards then hooked up with Levern Jacobs for a 56-yard score that chopped Maryland’s deficit to two touchdowns. But after Stefon Diggs suffered what is likely a season-ending broken fibula just after the fourth quarter began, Rowe threw four straight incompletions from the Wake Forest 15-yard line, including three overthrows of tight end Dave Stinebaugh.
“I thought he did some good things and I thought there were some things that he could have done a little bit better,” Edsall said. “I thought there were some situations there, again, he had to manage. We have first and 10 on the 15 and we got to understand we don’t need a touchdown on the throw. We got to take what the defense gives us and execute. And that’s something we have to continue to work on and continue to coach.”
Said Rowe: “I wouldn’t say [there was] a difference. We did move the ball, we just didn’t execute in the red zone. That’s the only thing. That’s on me. I missed a few throws, tried to force a few things. I just have to get better in those situations and that’ll come with experience.”
Both quarterbacks had numbers that were pedestrian, at best. Brown completed 15 of 24 passes for 137 yards and two interceptions. Rowe was 12 of 27 for 207 yards and one touchdown. When Edsall speaks on his Sunday teleconference, he will surely address the quarterback situation for the upcoming week, as Maryland begins preparation for No. 3 Clemson. Rowe says he’ll prepare for any situation. Brown spent most of the second half wearing a headset, coaching Rowe and helping the sophomore with his reads.
“C.J. is a leader on this team,” he said. “He’s a great player. He just didn’t have a good day. That’s fine. C.J. will be back, ready this week, fired up.”
But that doesn’t mean he anticipates Brown returning to his first-string duties.
“I don’t expect anything,” Rowe said. “Just whatever coach feels. I’m just going to do what I can to be the best quarterback I can be through practice, and even if I’m second or first, I’m here to make Maryland football better. Whatever that is, I’ll do.”