Two years ago, before the torn ACL and concussion and trunk injury, C.J. Brown was living on a week-to-week basis, wondering each practice whether Coach Randy Edsall would call his name that Saturday. The Maryland football team’s quarterback situation was a two-man race in 2011, between Brown and Danny O’Brien, and whoever took snaps during games perpetually played within the shadow of the other.
“I think it’s never good to continue look over your shoulder, wondering if you’re not going to screw up, or if you do screw up you’re getting pulled,” Brown said Tuesday. “You want to go out there and play free and play loose, but at the same time play smart.”
During Saturday’s 20-3 loss to Syracuse, Brown did none of those things. He attempted 40 passes yet only gained 211 yards. He threw two interceptions, lost one fumble and averaged 0.3 yards per carry. His adjusted quarterback rating, a metric devised by ESPN on a scale from 0 to 100, was 6.5.
But Tuesday, Edsall again reiterated his support of Brown, allowing the fifth-year quarterback to operate without fear of benching, unless injuries again strike.
“To me, C.J. gives us the best opportunity as we go into the Virginia Tech game to win,” Edsall said. “We just haven’t been as consistent over this last four-game period as we have been. Everybody’s evaluated all the and we’ll sit there and we’ll decide what happens. C.J. just has to be consistent. There were some things that he did that were out of character for him to do on Saturday, that he doesn’t expect and will be corrected.”
Upbeat by nature, optimistic by need given his veteran status on this young Maryland team, Brown was unusually morose during postgame interviews on Saturday evening. For the first time this season, he had finished an ACC game, but felt no need to celebration the small, personal victory.
Down just 7-0 in the second quarter, Maryland reached Orange territory on consecutive possessions, and each time Brown threw an interception. And when the Terps needed a second-half boost, their opening drive after intermission resulted in Brown booting a snap and losing the fumble.
“Yeah I was down,” Brown said. “There was no doubt about it. I felt like I let the team down. Especially those three turnovers I had, they were dumb. There’s no excuse for them. I don’t know what I was doing. It could have been the difference in the outcome of the game. I took it personally. I took it hard. I’m going to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Except Maryland now prepares for Virginia Tech, which ranks second in the ACC in scoring defense, first in rushing defense, second in pass defense and first in total defense. Freshman Kendall Fuller’s five interceptions are second in the conference as well. Just when Brown needs a rebound game to revive a season circling the drain, he might receive his stiffest test since Florida State, when a concussion knocked him from the second half and caused him to miss the following game.
Aside from the “normal bumps and bruises,” Brown said he feels perfectly healthy and seemed reassured to hear Edsall never considered benching him against Syracuse. But in directing an offense so needy for playmakers that former quarterback Ricardo Young has moved to wide receiver, Brown conceded that, without Stefon Diggs (broken leg) and Deon Long (broken leg) catching passes anymore, a greater burden has fallen onto him.
“I try not to think that way,” he said. “I try just to go out there and play. When guys go down, you try to step up. Sometimes I try to do more than I should or I need to. With that said, you can’t make silly mistakes. You can’t put the team in jeopardy like that and I can’t turn the ball over. If I’m going to do that, I need to be smart with the ball.”