By Maryland football standards, sophomore quarterback Caleb Rowe has become a sage veteran, wise beyond his years, experienced and ready to lead. Over his short Terrapins career, he has played in garbage time, started two games and, when duty called, replaced the injured. This week, however, he faces another unfamiliar situation.
With the health of presumed starter C.J. Brown still wavering after an undisclosed ailment suffered last weekend at Wake Forest, Rowe is listed as Maryland’s co-starter. Everyone this week has come cloaked in mystery. If Brown cannot go, Rowe would make his second start of the season and fourth straight significant appearance. If Brown plays? Well, that’s just fine, too.
“I still have the mind-set that if I do that opportunity, I want to produce to the best of my ability.” Rowe said Wednesday. “I wouldn’t say I practice any different, or with any different mind-set.”
Like Brown, Rowe exudes a soothing calm in the huddle. He hates quarterbacking while tense or high-strung, because football to the sophomore is a game he loves, and games are fun. He admitted substantial growth in this department since last season, when Rowe played less than one quarter against North Carolina State and then started a 20-17 loss at Boston College before tearing his ACL. “Definitely from last year to this year, I’ve minimized the times I am shaky,” he said.
Rowe moved to South Carolina when he was in seventh grade. His father grew up an Alabama fan, but the family lived a short drive from Clemson, which showed some initial recruiting interest in the wiry signal-caller. This being Maryland’s last conference game against Clemson, Rowe is drawing little motivation from facing a team for which many familiar facesplay.
“I’m here to do whatever fits Maryland best,” he said.
Whether that means crouching under center at Byrd Stadium or signaling plays from the sideline, Rowe doesn’t even know that answer. It largely depends on how Brown progresses throughout the week and, given Coach Randy Edsall’s abhorrence for the early disclosing of injury statuses, should be a game-time decision.
Rowe’s best moments so far have come in reserve roles, when his slingshot arm jolts from the bench and surprises opposing defenses. It helped him nearly lead a game-winning drive against the Wolfpack last season, convert a long third down on his first pass at Florida State after Brown suffered his concussion and deliver a 56-yard touchdown pass against Wake Forest.
“As I told the quarterbacks, we need to be better than what we played on Saturday,” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said Wednesday. “But these guys all prepare as if they’re going to be starters. I think that’s the mentality you have to have, especially at the quarterback situation because you never know. We’ve lived that life before. They all have to prepare.”
Neither Brown nor Rowe graded particularly well against Wake Forest. Brown threw two interceptions before the mystery injury caused Edsall to remove him. Rowe completed less than 50 percent of his passes and misfired several times in the red zone.
“I think it was just me being impatient a little bit, coming in, wanting to do too much,” Rowe said. “I think I hurt our team a little bit not taking easier throws and trying to make plays that were there. Then it’s a learning experience. I think the more I play, the more experience I’ll have. The more opportunities I have to make those mistakes, I’ll be a better quarterback because of them .I have learned from them. Coach brought it up on film, of course. I’ve definitely learned from those mistakes.”
And whoever plays against the ninth-ranked Tigers this Saturday will oppose a formidable defense that ranks seventh nationally in opposing third-down conversion rate, ninth in interceptions and first in sacks. Brown clearly wasn’t his usual dynamic self against the Demon Deacons, and if Rowe starts the Terps will need a substantially more accurate version than the one who tossed that 56-yard touchdown to Levern Jacobs, then did little else of merit.
In conference games, Maryland ranks 13th in red zone efficiency and last in third down conversions. Twice on Saturday, the Terps reached Wake Forest territory only to have a drive end with four straight Rowe incompletions.
Locksley played down the notion that Rowe had “a ton of overthrows,” but conceded the backup experienced several misreads that quelled possessions.
“Obviously when you don’t win, it’s hard to say anybody did well,” Locksley said. “I’m sure he’ll be the first to tell you we made a lot of mistakes at the quarterback position. We left plays on the field …we came up short, especially in the red zone area, where you go back and watch the tape there were guys open.
“As a coach, I need to make sure get those things cleaned up.”