Under the bus Deon Long went, 30 seconds into Caleb Rowe’s postgame interview session. “I don’t know if I should say this,” the Maryland football team’s backup quarterback began, with no real intention of stopping himself short. “But Deon ran the wrong route.”
Several rows back inside Glaser Auditorium, Long entered the room, the second Terrapins player to hold court after the team’s 27-26 win over Virginia. Reporters greeted him with the news that Rowe had sold him out, so Long flashed a smile, strutted down toward the front, plopped into a chair and said, “Nah, nah, nah. He threw the wrong route.”
They could play like this only in the context of Maryland’s biggest win this season, and arguably of the Randy Edsall era, the squeaker that surpassed last season’s victory total and pushed the Terps one win away from bowl eligibility. So who was right? What happened on the 47-yard prayer Rowe heaved downfield into double coverage, the game hinging on that third-and-long?
Long claimed it was a “fade comeback,” but the cornerback came hard and the safety came down, so he changed routes and “ran as fast as I could.”
Rowe agreed. He called it an “18-yard comeback, but the way the corner was playing, he converted it.” Rowe just happened to roll that way and toss a jump ball.
Semantics. What mattered was that, with a backup quarterback under center, both Long and Stefon Diggs rediscovered themselves through the air. What mattered was that, when Maryland needed a play made, it turned to its twin towers of freakish athleticism, the two wide receivers destined to play on Sundays.
“Caleb trusts us,” Diggs said. “We’re down the field. He knows one of us is going to make a play. He has faith in us and we have faith in him. That’s just how it works.”
So when Rowe underthrew Long, the junior transfer from Iowa Western Community College sprinted back towards the line of scrimmage and leapt between double coverage, bringing down the pass with two defenders on his back. Not long after, Rowe hooked up with tight end Dave Stinebaugh for the game-winning touchdown.
“Those are the things that Deon can do,” Edsall said. “That’s a good lesson for Caleb, and it’ll be a good lesson for C.J. [Brown]. If you put the ball in a position where he and Stefon can fight and jump, they’ve got strong hand and good leaping ability, they’re going to make some plays. We need to do more of that.”
Prior to Virginia, the Terps had done less and less of that. Diggs had caught four passes for 37 yards against West Virginia and Florida State combined, the worst two-game stretch of his career. Long hauled in six passes for 98 yards versus the Mountaineers and three for 77 yards in Tallahassee, not paltry numbers by any measure, but he had several more opportunities to catch touchdown passes that either fell through his hands or Maryland’s quarterbacks overthrew.
But these two work best in tandem, when Long can break downfield and Diggs can shed tacklers in the short game. Diggs caught six passes from Rowe for 96 yards, and Long four for 98. Neither scored, but each broke off big plays of at least 39 yards, none bigger than Long’s catch.
“I knew I had to do something,” Long said.” Me or Stefon or some receiver had to make a play. Just the mindset we have. We’re the best and most talented group on the team, so we have to put the most work in, blocking wise, in class, we have to do everything right. The way Locks’ offense is, he throws the ball a lot, so we throw the ball, it opens up the run. We relish off explosive plays. We just have to be the best at what we do.”