Maryland's quarterback uncertainty continues down to the wire
Sunday, November 29, 2009
For at least one play late in the fourth quarter of a game that would cement the first 10-loss season in Maryland football history, the possibilities of what the future might bring were evident. Sophomore wide receiver Torrey Smith extended a deep crossing route further than normal to provide scrambling sophomore quarterback Jamarr Robinson a target in the end zone. Robinson lofted a pass just over the head of a Boston College linebacker and into Smith's hands for a 28-yard touchdown.
"It was a perfect pass," Smith said. "I had an easy job catching it."
The decisions that led to Robinson being on the field to make that touchdown throw were far less straightforward. Both he and senior Chris Turner -- who started both halves only to eventually be replaced by Robinson -- were plagued by injuries and practiced little in the week leading up to Saturday's season-ending 19-17 loss to the Eagles. And so the Maryland coaching staff faced a choice that carried an implication far weightier than which signal caller would best help the Terrapins score points.
Stick with what you know, or move toward the future?
The options were Turner, who missed the past 2 1/2 games because of an injured medial collateral ligament, and Robinson, a dual-threat quarterback who had performed admirably in place of Turner but who was dealing with turf toe and shoulder issues of his own.
"Neither one of them practiced hardly all week," Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen said. "Maybe a good guess would be 70 percent [healthy]. And I think both of them played with their hearts and played very, very hard."
During practice Thursday, Friedgen said the entire offense had to walk through plays in order for Robinson to be able to participate. Friedgen said that entering Saturday Turner was the healthier of the two quarterbacks, though the plan was to play both.
Turner got the start and completed 5 of 8 passes for 55 yards before being taken out after three offensive series. Turner was hit hard just before releasing a pass on the third drive and got up hobbling on his injured leg. Friedgen said offensive coordinator James Franklin handled the quarterback rotation Saturday and that Franklin removed Turner late in the first quarter because the offensive line was having "protection problems" that Robinson might be better equipped to deal with, given his mobility.
Robinson entered the game and led Maryland on a nine-play, 69-yard drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown run by tailback Da'Rel Scott to tie the score at 10. By halftime, Robinson had thrown for 51 yards on 4-of-5 passing.
Turner returned to the field at the start of the third quarter. He completed 11 of 17 passes for 101 yards on the night, but could not jump-start Maryland's stalled offense. With just less than five minutes remaining in the game, Robinson replaced Turner once again. Neither quarterback, nor Franklin, was made available to comment following the game.
"It wasn't that we were disappointed in Chris's performance at all," Friedgen said. "We just felt like Jamarr took us on one drive and then he took us on another. I think he was just trying to go with the guy who would help us put points on the board best. Jamarr has that other ability to scramble and make a play that Chris doesn't have, especially right now."
Come spring, Robinson's mobility and experience will provide him a leg up in a four-man quarterback competition. Freshmen Danny O'Brien and C.J. Brown did not see action this season and will be given redshirts, meaning each player has four years of eligibility remaining. Clay Belton, a transfer from Miami (Ohio), will be thrown into the mix, as well.
Friedgen said Robinson has displayed more poise in games over the past three weeks than he has in practice. Perhaps that's why the decision of whether to play Turner or Robinson in an otherwise meaningless final game was so difficult -- and so crucial.
"Jamarr played very well again," Friedgen said. "So that was an encouraging sign for us."