While Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown rolled over onto his stomach and didn’t move, neither did anyone else at Byrd Stadium. The sound had been sucked out of the place after Brown took a shot to the back during the third quarter of Saturday’s game against Iowa. Coach Randy Edsall hurried across the field to check on the sixth-year senior he is counting heavily upon to navigate the team through the Big Ten — particularly after the announcement that Brown’s backup will miss the remainder of the season.
The game had been more an exercise in vigor than anything else, so Brown picked himself up off the turf after a few minutes. He had thrown an interception on the first play of the game and come back. He had thrown another at the end of the first half and come back. And after he went to the sideline to get medically cleared, Brown gingerly returned to the game about a half-hour later and became a symbol of Maryland’s 38-31 win over the Hawkeyes.
“It scared me. My whole right side of my back tightened and locked up,” said Brown, who sustained a muscle injury in the upper back. “I got treatment on it and felt like I was ready to go and went back out there and was able to finish.”
Maryland (5-2, 2-1) has entered the teeth of its Big Ten schedule, and with trips to Wisconsin and Penn State the next two weeks, a loss Saturday could have been crippling. It had been 14 days since Ohio State embarrassed Maryland in its Big Ten home opener, and there seemed to be residual effects early Saturday at Byrd Stadium.
Iowa defensive tackle Drew Ott set up the Hawkeyes’ first touchdown by intercepting Brown on the game’s first play from scrimmage. The Hawkeyes made it 14-0 a few minutes later on quarterback Jake Rudock’s two-yard touchdown pass to Coble Krieger. That score came after Iowa (5-2, 2-1) converted a fourth and five from the Maryland 9-yard line, showing no respect to a defensive unit that had been demoralized by the Buckeyes two weeks ago.
Ohio State had gone up 14-0 early in that game, too. But the difference Saturday was that the Terrapins responded with an air of desperation. The defense forced six punts and a fumble on Iowa’s next seven possessions, and Maryland’s offense slowly started to chip away. Sophomore Jacquille Veii had a 23-yard touchdown run to get Maryland on the board in the first quarter, and Wes Brown added a one-yard plunge in the second quarter to give the Terrapins a 17-14 lead.
It was a strange day, and it bookended a difficult month for Brown. He was injured three weeks ago at Indiana, spraining his wrist and missing the second half of the team’s emotional win in its Big Ten opener. He was pulled at halftime against Ohio State in favor of Caleb Rowe. His vow to improve, made during the bye week, became more imperative after Rowe tore his left anterior cruciate ligament during practice Tuesday, an injury announced by Maryland shortly before Saturday’s game.
Brown’s perseverance was tested Saturday beyond the early interceptions and his injury scare. He ran 21 times for 99 yards but absorbed a number of jarring hits. He missed open receivers several times.
Brown came out for three series, replaced by sophomore Perry Hills. It seemed as if Maryland was beginning to endure the sort of injury wave that hit the position in 2012, when the team was forced to use a linebacker under center at one point. But as Maryland’s defense continued to stifle Iowa’s pro-style offense, Hills survived. He finished 5-for-10 passing for 86 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs that made it 24-14 late in the third quarter before Brown returned.
“When you see [Brown] take a shot like the one he took and then go back in there, you have a tremendous amount of respect for him,” said Edsall, who has ardently defended the sixth-year senior over the last few weeks.
The early deficit provided an opportunity for the team to prove it could fit into the Big Ten’s brand of football, defensive lineman Darius Kilgo admitted later. The Terrapins’ front seven played as if it was offended by the hype surrounding an Iowa offensive line that featured top NFL prospect Brandon Scherff at left tackle, holding the Hawkeyes to 116 yards rushing. Defensive back Will Likely continued his torrid sophomore campaign by returning an interception 45 yards for a score that made it 31-21 early in the fourth quarter.
“We were able to figure out what kind of plays they [were] going to run and make personnel adjustments,” said Kilgo, who had six tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery.
Maryland staggered to the win. Iowa scored 10 points in a span of two minutes late in the fourth quarter and drove to midfield on the final drive of the game — but Maryland’s defense, long criticized for being porous through the first six weeks, came up with a stop on a fourth-down pass by Rudock.
Brown, who finished with 219 yards of total offense, found the cold tub almost immediately after the game. He emerged for his postgame news conference with a black air cast on his left wrist but not noticeably hampered by his back.
He said: “To be able to come out here today, get the win and only come out with scratches and bruises is pretty good.”