One week after waiting until kickoff to announce his starting quarterback, Maryland Coach Randy Edsall ended the suspense early this week by saying Tuesday that C.J. Brown would start Saturday’s game against Florida State.
Brown, a sophomore who made his first career start in Saturday’s 56-45 loss to Clemson, has provided a much-needed offensive spark the last two games because of his mobility. After running for 124 yards in the Oct. 8 loss at Georgia Tech, Brown rushed for 162, a record for a Maryland quarterback, against the Tigers.
“Having played the position myself and having coached on defense a number of years,” Edsall said, “when you have to face a guy who has the ability to throw the ball and run the ball, it does create a lot of problems for the defense.”
Brown has replaced sophomore Danny O’Brien, last season’s ACC rookie of the year, who had made 15 consecutive starts before the Clemson game. After playing well in the season-opening victory against Miami, O’Brien had not performed as well in Maryland’s newly installed spread offense as he did last season.
When asked if O’Brien could play at some point the rest of this season, Edsall said, “Everybody always has to be ready to go because, if you are a backup, you are one play away from going in.”
Brown called O’Brien a “great friend” whom Brown sees every day and whom Brown consults with on the sideline about the game. A Maryland official denied a request to speak to O’Brien this week.
Brown, the son of a former Michigan State quarterback, has run the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds. Born in Troy, Mich., he ran a version of the spread offense at Seneca Valley High in Pennsylvania. He said he ran for more than 100 yards in high school games but never came close to equaling his rushing total against Clemson.
Against the Tigers, Brown also passed for 177 yards and threw three touchdown passes. His rushing total was the eighth highest by a quarterback in ACC history and the highest by an ACC quarterback in a decade.
But Brown knows that Florida State has more tape to study of Brown and that the Seminoles’ defense, which ranks ninth nationally against the run and third in tackles for a loss, will have one goal in mind.
“They are going to try to take away my legs,” Brown said.
Brown said he is content to sit in the pocket and pass, although he is not expected to have Maryland’s leading wide receiver, Kevin Dorsey, on the field. Dorsey suffered an apparent hamstring injury against Clemson and was not listed at either receiver position on the team’s most recent depth chart.
True freshman Marcus Leak, who has four catches for 24 yards this season, and senior Quintin McCree, who has caught 10 passes for 57 yards, are listed as the two starters at wide receiver. Conspicuously absent is senior Ronnie Tyler, who dropped a catchable pass that would have resulted in a long gain, if not a touchdown, against Clemson.
Edsall said Tyler’s absence on the depth chart is related to “production” issues.
Injuries continue to wreak havoc on a roster that had little depth to begin with this season. Five freshmen could start on defense for the second consecutive game.
The most notable injuries are to the three starting linebackers: Kenny Tate, a first-team all-ACC performer last season; Demetrius Hartsfield, who had been the team’s leading tackler; and Darin Drakeford. On this week’s depth chart, Tate is listed as a backup to freshman linebacker Mario Rowson, Hartsfield is not listed and Drakeford is listed as a backup to 17-year-old Alex Twine.
“We hope that we get Demetrius back soon,” Edsall said. “We hope Darin gets back soon. We already have things going in our minds, what do we do when those guys come back. We hope we get Kenny back.”
Two other players, wide receiver Tyrek Cheeseboro and linebacker Avery Graham, are out for the season with undisclosed injuries, Edsall said. Cheeseboro played in just three games, making him eligible for a medical redshirt.
Other players are still on a path to recovery. Justin Gilbert, an offensive lineman who tore knee ligaments last season, is now taking part in some individual work during practices. Next week, Edsall said, Gilbert should be cleared to take part in team drills, and Gilbert should be cleared to play in the Nov. 5 game against Virginia.
And defensive lineman Justin Anderson has started to take part in individual work in practice, but Edsall said no definitive timetable exists for his return to game action.