By Eric Prisbell
Friday, September 10, 2010; D5
Wanting to quash the notion of an emerging quarterback controversy, Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen only heightened the intrigue by making a statement that seemed to surprise even his offensive coordinator.
Friedgen on Wednesday offered unwavering support for his starting quarterback, Jamarr Robinson, after a season opener in which coaches inserted backup Danny O'Brien for a short-lived fourth-quarter series. But Friedgen also acknowledged in two interviews Wednesday that three quarterbacks could play Saturday against Morgan State.
When told of Friedgen's statement about the possibility of playing three quarterbacks, offensive coordinator James Franklin initially did not say a word. He merely raised his eyebrows high, leaned back slightly in his chair and offered reporters a bemused look.
It all makes for mild drama in what otherwise looks like a lackluster matchup against a division I-AA opponent in Saturday's home opener. What to expect: Robinson, who struggled to throw the ball in Monday's 17-14 win over Navy, will start. O'Brien, who played one ill-fated snap Monday, should see some action. And redshirt freshman C.J. Brown may see the first action of his career, as well.
Because two quarterbacks played in the win over Navy, Friedgen said, "I know everybody is trying to make a big controversy with that, but it really isn't."
Robinson, a junior, completed only 2 of 5 passes for 11 yards and threw the first interception of his career. Opportunities to throw the ball were limited because Navy controlled the ball for nearly two-thirds of the contest and the Terrapins relied heavily on the running game because it was successful (261 net rushing yards).
But coaches felt at times Robinson held on to the ball too long. He also overthrew wide receiver Torrey Smith on a fade route in the end zone. Yet Friedgen and Franklin remain confident in Robinson despite the lack of production because he had already established himself to some degree when he completed 54.1 percent of his passes in seven games last season. Robinson also said he is unconcerned.
That O'Brien played was no surprise to the Maryland players. Franklin had told the redshirt freshman in a position meeting last week that he would at least play some against Navy.
By early in the fourth quarter of a tie game, Maryland's offense stalled - the Terrapins had punted on three consecutive possessions - and appeared one-dimensional in Franklin's eyes. So he instructed O'Brien to warm up.
After Tony Logan's 57-yard punt return gave Maryland possession at the Navy 16, O'Brien took the field for his first career snap believing he would guide the Terrapins on a short touchdown-scoring drive. But on the first play, O'Brien botched the handoff with running back Davin Meggett. Navy recovered the fumble.
"One of those plays we run a million times," O'Brien said. "I felt I got it to him. I turned around and there was a big pile of people and my heart sank immediately. A one-in-a-million thing, just happened to be the first play of my career.
"That's what ate at me before we ended up winning, that I killed a good momentum booster."
Franklin said the problem began because O'Brien was not loud enough and offensive players had trouble picking up his cadence. Then, Franklin said, O'Brien did not look the ball into Meggett's belly and it instead hit Meggett low on the hip, causing the fumble.
After the miscue, O'Brien told coaches he remained confident and wanted to stay in the game. Coaches then - and since have - offered support, but Robinson was re-inserted on the next series and led the Terrapins on a drive that concluded with a go-ahead field goal because, Franklin said, "we could not afford to take other risks."
Friedgen defended playing O'Brien in that situation but added: "If I knew he was going to fumble the exchange, obviously I would not have put him in. I am not clairvoyant like a lot of the fans are."
Coaches have been giving all three quarterbacks opportunities in practice. In a typical 12-play script, Robinson gets six reps, O'Brien four and Brown two. At times, if a passing play is successful, that quarterback will remain under center. Friedgen recalled Brown, whom he has praised for his improvement since the spring, completing six passes in a row.
"It puts some competition into it, and I think it is good," Friedgen said. "There is a pretty good fellowship there for a pretty competitive situation. But I have no reservations about Jamarr. I think he brings something to our team."
Regardless of how many quarterbacks play, improving the passing game is a priority before the Terrapins visit Morgantown, W.Va., for a game against West Virginia on Sept. 18. Coaches believe they are two-deep at wide receiver, they have multiple offensive weapons and, as Franklin said: "Navy didn't stop us once. We decided to start stopping ourselves."
So while coaches continue to work toward improving, and reporters and fans focus on who is throwing the passes, Franklin said "our team, our coaching staff and the quarterbacks as a room don't really see it as an issue."