(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

It took Shawn Petty one half to catch up to the speed of the college game in his debut Saturday against Georgia Tech.

Now he needs to take the next step: holding on to the football.

“I wished he would have protected the ball a little bit more and we did not turn it over,” Coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday. “I think he was a bit jittery to start the game, which is expected. I think he was more concerned about whether he was getting rushed than just letting the ball go.”

Following Maryland’s 33-13 loss to the Yellow Jackets, Petty spoke with impressive self-awareness, especially for a linebacker-turned-quarterback who, as a true freshman, had only practiced seven times at the position before being thrown squarely into the fire.

He knew that, on the Terps’ first play from scrimmage, he had any number of receivers open downfield on play-action with a stacked box, but held on to the football just a split second too long and absorbed a sack.

He knew that losing one fumble and nearly losing another was unacceptable, just like trying to force a laser attempt to Stefon Diggs in the end zone that got tipped and intercepted, rather than putting touch on the pass and floating it over a pass rusher.

“Coming out the first game, I was timid and slow,” Petty said Tuesday. “You just have to speed up and play hard. Coach already tells me: ‘You can’t turn the ball over. Keep the ball high and tight.’ Says that a lot in practice.”

His ailing predecessors – C.J. Brown, Perry Hills, Devin Burns and Caleb Rowe, in order of occurrence of their respective season-ending injuries – have each lent a hand to help Perry navigate through the terminologies, reads and mental preparedness.

“Yes, I’m enjoying it, but it was a tragedy the way I became the quarterback,” Petty said. “They went down, which gave me this spot. Just working hard every day, in the film room and on the practice field, so we can move forward. It’s a tragedy that we have to lose players. Then again, we play with the next-man mentality. Our coaches installed that in my head. We always have to be ready to play, no matter who it is.”

But the task gets astronomically tougher Saturday in Death Valley against No. 10 Clemson, which has a hungry defense and is eager to prove it deserves a BCS at-large bid. As Edsall has been quick to note, Petty’s second half against the Yellow Jackets was far better than his first half, especially as the Terps catered the offense even more to suit his skills.

“In terms of executing, we did not have any delay of games or any illegal procedures,” Edsall said. “He did a good job of getting us in and out of the huddle and I thought he made some good reads. He missed some, but given the situation, with only seven practices I think he did a good job. We just need to get him better for this week, because with the speed and athleticism [of Clemson] the game isn’t going to get any slower.”