CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Caleb Rowe underwent about as hectic a week as imaginable, transforming from a third-string, emergency quarterback who was prepared to take a redshirt into the Maryland football team’s starter, all because Perry Hills tore his ACL and Devin Burns suffered a Lisfranc injury.
The increased practice repetitions left Rowe a little more sore than usual, but it was “fun being the guy,” he said after Maryland’s 20-17 loss to Boston College. The Terrapins rallied behind Rowe, knowing full well that the stringy, fun-loving freshman with the Southern twang was all they had left.
Rowe threw three interceptions in his first full game as Maryland’s starting quarterback, a position that, barring the kind of injuries that have seemed to invade the Terps backfield this season, he will hold for the duration of 2012. But after Maryland dropped another close heartbreaker, Rowe received positive reviews from teammates and coaches alike.
“Caleb’s a gamer, man,” defensive lineman A.J. Francis said. “I’ve never doubted his ability. Every quarterback on our staff, I feel comfortable with out there. Our offense, it doesn’t really matter who’s out there. Caleb played a hell of a game today. He made some mistakes in his first start. I made some mistakes and it was my 31st start. We’ve all got room to improve. He’s going to learn from his mistakes and play better in the future. We need him to.”
Hills threw three interceptions in his debut against William & Mary. Rowe did the same at Alumni Stadium, in front of 33,267 fans who finally saw Boston College beat a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent. Rowe’s first two picks were the product of mistakes consistent with his collegiate inexperience.
After each interception, Rowe dropped his head, hands on knees, disappointed at another mistake. But during postgame interviews, he actually seemed excited to improve, thrilled at what he called an “exhilarating” experience in his starting debut.
“I’ve learned so much,” Rowe said. “Each interception really teaches you a lot. Go back and watch film, you’ll learn even more. I’m looking forward to that.”
Pressured on third down near midfield with just more than six minutes left in the first half, Rowe tried to make a play while getting sacked, and his weak, errant found defensive end Kieran Borcich near the line of scrimmage. Then, on first and 10 near the Boston College 27 just before halftime, with Maryland driving after a 10-yard completion to Stefon Diggs and a personal foul penalty, Rowe scrambled near the far sideline and, instead of stepping out of bounds, tried to make a throw across his body. He wound up getting intercepted by free safety Justin Simmons.
“Caleb, I thought he did a good job and competed,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “You can see the inexperience a little bit, couple times could have hung in the pocket a little more. Two of the picks he had, trying to do too much. Take a sack on the first one, the second one, just run out of bounds in terms of where we are. He’ll get better from this and he’ll learn from this.”
Down 13-0 at halftime, Rowe and the Maryland offense turned a corner after intermission. The offense clicked, and suddenly the Terps were up 17-13 after another catch-and-run touchdown by Diggs, this time a 66-yard burst in which he simply outran the Eagles.
“In practice, we watch him, he can really make all the throws,” defensive end Joe Vellano said. “I thought he did a great job coming in, getting the offense going, scoring some points, getting first downs and all that.”
Midway through the third quarter, the ball on the Boston College 1-yard line, Rowe hooked up with Nigel King for a touchdown that chopped Maryland’s deficit to 13-7. Three defenders bit inside on Diggs’s crossing route, but Rowe still threw a jump ball, expecting at least one Eagles player to blanket King.
“Caleb calmed down a little, made his reads, made his throws,” Diggs said. “He had some pretty balls out there. He’s getting adjusted. It’s his first game, trying to control the huddle, control the course of the game. He did a great job.”
Skittish under pressure, Rowe felt he could have taken advantage of solid pass protection by camping out in the pocket longer, but at times took a beating. In the first half, he got cracked on a blindside blitz, getting the ball out just in time.
“I didn’t expect that much of him, but he took a big load,” running back Wes Brown said. “Coming into this game, getting hit a couple times, being risky and taking a run, that was a big job stepping up like that. After seeing how many quarterbacks got hurt, he risked his body doing that.”
It was a scary moment for Terps fans given that their second- and third-string quarterbacks are a linebacker and tight end wearing numbers 31 and 47, respectively, but Rowe bounced right back up.
“That’s the thing I’ve always done. I don’t want them thinking they hit me hard,” Rowe said. “There were a few things that hurt, but most of them, I usually tell them ‘good hit,’ or just let them know to keep coming. I can handle it. It’s something I’ve always done.”
Then came Maryland’s final possession. Boston College was up 20-17 after an 85-yard drive in which quarterback Chase Rettig actually had 92 passing yards because of a seven-yard sack. Rowe was masterful in a similar situation last weekend against N.C. State, passing and scrambling his way deep into Wolfpack territory, setting up Brad Craddock’s field goal attempt that ultimately clanged off the left upright.
“It’s fun having the ball in your hands to win the game,” Rowe said. “Unfortunately today wasn’t the day.”
Rowe trotted onto the field, aware of the situation and that the Terps had one timeout remaining, but thinking about little else. On first down, the ball at the Maryland 31-yard line, Rowe stepped in the shotgun, an empty backfield with five wide receivers. Facing a three-man rush, Rowe took a five-step drop and unleashed a bullet toward midfield. The pass sailed high of Kevin Dorsey and short of Diggs, right into the hands of Spenser Rositano. Once again, Rowe’s hands met his knees.
“I’m definitely ready to get better,” Rowe said. “As a football player, you can’t ever stop getting better. I’m ready to learn from these mistakes and continue with the season.”