C.J. Brown settled into the last chair in the last row of the Gossett Team House auditorium, ready to accept full responsibility for what had, the Maryland quarterback thought, been mostly his fault. “I didn’t execute to my potential,” he said. “I put our team in tough situations. It falls back on me, because it’s hard to get the guys going when I’m the problem.”
Until a demoralizing 20-3 loss to Syracuse on Saturday afternoon, Brown had not finished an ACC game. He suffered a concussion at Florida State, sat out against Virginia, was battered until benched at Wake Forest then sat out again against Clemson. But after a bye week, hope was alive. Maybe a healthy Brown could return the Terrapins to their pre-ACC vigor. Yes, maybe that.
Instead, Brown’s struggles compounded problems for an already listless Maryland team, which fell behind after Syracuse’s opening drive and only mustered a chip-shot field goal from there. Plenty will be criticized when the players gather Sunday afternoon for their weekly film breakdown. The dropped passes. A missed field goal. Possessions that stalled thanks to missed assignments, or botched routes, or running backs failing to hit the right role. Even that opening drive, which chewed up eight minutes as the Orange ran simple plays straight into the heart of the Terps defense, contributed to the afternoon’s calamities.
But Brown’s turnovers will take center stage. His first several drives went well enough. The first ended on a third-down sack, when Syracuse stunted inside against new starting left tackle Moise Larose, then blitzed a linebacker off the edge. On Maryland’s next possession, Brown completed passes of 26 and 10 yards, setting up for a 42-yard attempt that Brad Craddock shanked. Even before the string of giveaways, though, something seemed off about the zone-read option, the play that, during nonconference play, once made the Terps go.
“We had good drives,” Brown said. “We didn’t have too many three-and-outs. We kept moving the ball, but their defense was bringing pressure. We like we were getting picked up pretty good, and we just didn’t execute today.
“I felt like we did a lot of zone-read option. That was kind of our game plan with the pressure they were bringing. It’s always tough to account for the quarterback when you’re bringing all that pressure. Yeah we had to fade away from it in the second half because we were down.”
Maryland was down because of turnovers on four straight possessions, beginning when Brown tried to squeeze a third-down pass to Amba Etta-Tawo into the end zone. He went for the home-run play but telegraphed it the entire way. Though Etta-Tawo beat his cornerback, free safety Durell Eskridge read Brown’s play-action from the start and easily intercepted the pass.
The next possession, tight end Dave Stinebaugh ran a simple out pattern from stance. Either he turned too late or Brown threw too early, but Stinebaugh barely had time to react before cornerback Julian Whigham jumped the route and the play started moving in the other direction. After Etta-Tawo bobbled an 18-yard gain then fumbled upon contact, Syracuse kicked a field goal the half mercifully ended. Until Maryland marched into Orange territory to start the second half and Brown allowed a snap to slip through his hands.
“I thought there were some things that he did today, some good things, then there were some other things that he didn’t do as well,” Edsall said. “Sometimes he didn’t get all the help that he needed out there. The ballhandling wasn’t real good, the fumbled snap wasn’t real good. I think what C.J. has to understand and what C.J. has to do, just like everybody else at their positions is just do what you’re supposed to do. You don’t have to do anything more.”
Said Brown: “Most of those turnovers were on me. I take full responsibility for that. One went right through my hands. It can’t happen. I don’t let that happen. I don’t even know what to say about it. Turnover’s a turnover. It puts our defense in a tough position, and I can’t do that.”