The word has hung over Brandon Ross all season. First, it described his shortcomings, everything wrong with his running style. Then it became a positive, because in the absence of the word Ross found success. Before long, every interview session with the Maryland football team’s starting running back brought at least one mention of that word.
He was dancing too much, happy feet churning like an Irish jig. He bobbed and weaved through holes, instead of surging through them. Ross lost yardage this way, and with it opportunities to establish the rushing attack. Two weekends ago, he carried just three times at Florida State. More than a month before that, he rushed for 21 yards on 10 carries in the season opener against Florida International. Both games brought questions about the effectiveness of Maryland’s running backs. Both outings brought, of course, more questions about his Ross’s feet.
But in the aftermath of his greatest game with the Terrapins, a less polite version of Ross might have offered two new words to those talking about his dancing.
“I just think I’m always a better back, going north-south, getting positive yards from my team, when I’m not losing yards,” he said. “I just think I did a better job getting upfield and making positive plays.”
With C.J. Brown signaling formations from a headset and warm-ups on the sidelines, still nursing the concussion that fell him against Florida State, Ross’s production could have suffered. Caleb Rowe, the backup quarterback making his second career start, is less of a rushing threat, so offensive coordinator Mike Locksley’s zone-read scheme becomes predictably one-dimensional.
Except it didn’t. Ross shredded Virginia on Saturday afternoon for a career-high 169 all-purpose yards and scored the first multi-touchdown game of his career. He caught three passes for 81 yards, 77 of which came on the same screen play Randy Edsall later called “unbelievable,” high praise from the normally hyperbole-averse Maryland coach.
Ross would have reached 100 yards rushing for the second time this season – he silenced critics after Florida International with a career-high 149 yards rushing against Old Dominion, so maybe he’s just best after facing teams from the Sunshine State – had Rowe not botched an option pitch that sailed over Ross’s head and was credited to the running back for a12-yard loss.
On Maryland’s first scoring drive, Ross accounted for all 79 yards. First he wove through the Cavaliers’ defense, cutting back and forth in a tight S shape down the Virginia sideline for 77 yards, straight to the Cavs’ 1-yard line. After one failed attempt straight up the middle, Ross sidestepped to his left then leaped over the pile for the score.
“We knew we needed to be able to run the ball,” Edsall said. “For us to be successful, we have to run the ball. I thought Brandon did a good job today. He’s going to have to continue to do a good job.”
He did. Later that half, Ross ripped off a 36-yard run into the Virginia red-zone, his first of six rushes of at least seven yards. The second such rush came three plays later, when fullback Kenneth Goins chopped the last remaining along the left side, so Ross took a toss sweep and strolled into the end zone from seven yards out.
“I guess last week I wasn’t getting positive yards,” Ross said. “This week I think I did a better job of getting north-south, hitting the holes, getting positive yards for my team.”
Then he added,” “Not as much dancing.”