BLACKSBURG, Va. – C.J. Brown hustled to the line of scrimmage Saturday against Virginia Tech, beckoning his teammates to gather around. He had spent weeks feeling unlike himself, recovering from the battery of hits that left him sore and frustrated. Now, the clock to halftime was ticking down and the score was tied, but the Maryland quarterback wanted more.
Earlier that drive, Brown completed a 17-yard pass to Amba Etta-Tawo and absorbed a roughing-the-passer penalty that moved the chains into Virginia Tech territory. Then he scrambled for 16 yards to the Hokies 8-yard line before lining up and spiking the football. Another seven-yard rush followed and the Terrapins again rushed to the line. But instead of spiking, Brown dived into the end zone to give Maryland a 14-7 halftime lead.
“I thought we might have caught them off guard,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “They thought we might go up and spike the ball. We practiced that play where we could sneak it in there. It gives you tremendous momentum going into halftime because you know you’re getting the ball to start the second half. Like I said, our kids did a great job today.”
None stood out more than Brown. He wasn’t perfect, muffing a snap that he later recovered, fumbling after a sack that running back Albert Reid recovered, throwing several poor jump balls to Etta-Tawo and a bad interception on first down from midfield.
But Brown also directed Maryland (6-4, 2-4 ACC) to its first bowl eligibility since 2010, his three-yard touchdown dive in overtime providing the difference in a 27-24 victory. He entered with negative rushing yards since before the team’s first bye week in late September, but finished with 122 on the ground and three total scores. A 16-yard over-the-shoulder touchdown to Nigel King that put the Terps up by 14 was the best pass he had completed in weeks, challenged only by the 43-yard completion to Etta-Tawo the play before.
“He played a hell of a game,” linebacker Matt Robinson said. “He played great. The offense was jelling, too, moving the ball. I think he really knew what he had to do. He was running the ball, throwing the ball, all-around good game.”
Perhaps as important, Brown bounced up from several big hits, the type that dealt him a concussion at Florida State and a trunk injury against Wake Forest. Both issues caused him to miss ACC games and left him without the typical cut-and-run speed that helped Brown to two 100-yard rushing outings during non-conference play.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Brown said. “Mentally I felt like I was there, but when you think you can make those plays with your legs and it’s not happening you have to sit back and look in the mirror. I was able to get back to this week. I practiced good, ran full speed, hit the weights hard.”
The biggest hit Brown took came on a 38-yard jaunt down the right sideline. He knew Virginia Tech’s man coverage caused the defensive backs to vacate downfield, exposing holes for Brown to exploit.
“They play a lot of man coverage and things were happening early in the game and I said to C.J.: ‘Don’t be afraid now to drop back. You see the thing open up, just take off, regardless of if somebody’s open,’ ” Edsall said. “There were yards to be had. But we knew we thought we could run the option, then when they played the man coverages, it opened things up for him to be able to run the ball. That’s when C.J. is most effective, when he can use his legs as well as his arms. He did a tremendous job today.”
On this particular play, a more tentative Brown might have scampered out of bounds to avoid contact. But he sprinted right for Der’Woun Greene, who dived for Brown’s knees and leveled him into the Hokies sideline. The crowd at once winced and cheered the big hit. Brown bounced back up and jogged back into the huddle, leading a drive that, had King not fumbled at the Virginia Tech 11-yard line, might have made the quarterback’s day even bigger.
“It also sends a message to the other team,” Brown said. “Anytime you get a big hit, you get up right away, oh that didn’t’ really affect them. yeah I’ve hit the ground hard. I’ve done it a million times. You learn how to fall properly. It didn’t affect me.”
With his team begging for leadership and needing a spark, nothing seemed to.
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