“He has already watched more film this week than anyone I have ever seen,” said R.J. Dill, O’Brien’s roommate and the team’s starting right tackle.
A sub-par performance is a rare occurrence for O’Brien, last season’s ACC rookie of the year, but he was uncharacteristically off his game at times against the Mountaineers. Whether the loss should be partly attributed to the suspension of two of his best wide receivers — Ronnie Tyler and Quintin McCree — or Maryland's inability to slow West Virginia’s high-octane offense is irrelevant to O’Brien.
He carries the loss on his own sophomore shoulders.
“Quarterback play always reflects how the team plays,” O’Brien said. “I played inconsistent.”
Saturday’s game against Temple (2-1) will offer a glimpse into how O’Brien responds to adversity. If it’s any indication, his approach to the week has impressed teammates, who noticed a particularly focused O’Brien when they arrived at the team house Sunday to lift weights.
“I saw it on his face,” wide receiver Kerry Boykins said. “He was in the meeting room watching film. He is so amped right now, ready to go, ready to get that taste out of his mouth.”
Wide receiver Kevin Dorsey, one of O’Brien’s close friends, said O’Brien has maintained his usual personality through the week, mixing lightheartedness with on-field intensity. But O’Brien has homed in on details.
“Right now, it is not enough for him to put the ball near the receiver,” Dorsey said. “He wants to put it exactly 18 inches in front of him if he is running a route.”
Saturday’s performance, which included one interception returned 37 yards for a touchdown and another to derail a potential game-winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes, was not the first time O’Brien struggled to meet his own admittedly high expectations.
His worst game in high school came on a day when he was ill. He threw three interceptions in a loss to Grimsley High. His high school coach, Todd Willert, a close mentor of O’Brien, verbally scolded O’Brien during the game to such an extent that local residents of Kernersville, N.C., wrote and e-mailed the coach with a unified message: Back off, he’s a good kid.
How did O’Brien respond? On his postseason goal sheet following his junior season, he underlined one school — Grimsley — and vowed to “play with a chip on our shoulder” to avenge the defeat. He did.
Last season, O’Brien combined for just one touchdown pass and four interceptions in disheartening losses at Clemson and Miami. In the games that immediately followed those respective losses, he responded with impressive efforts — five touchdown passes, zero interceptions — in wins at Boston College and Virginia.