A group of James Madison defenders descended upon C.J. Brown at the 2-yard line, stopping the Maryland quarterback in his tracks on a fourth and goal in the first half. It was the first gamble of the season for the Terrapins, and it looked like a bust.
But the ingenuity and resilience of Brown is why he was playing in this game in the first place. A sixth-year senior who has made a name for himself during moments like this, he slipped out of the grasp of a few tackles, reversed field and ran through 300-pound right guard Andrew Zeller for one of his three touchdowns in a 52-7 win over James Madison at Byrd Stadium.
It was a gritty response to a difficult day for Brown, who envisioned his last college opener going smoother. He misread a number of routes, struggled with accuracy and never looked in complete rhythm with his receivers.
“The stats speak for themselves and that’s unacceptable. I didn’t prepare for that,” said Brown, who finished 11 of 24 for 111 yards. “I didn’t play good today.”
But Brown seemed determined to make his mark in other ways, and his ferocity set the tone on a day when Maryland controlled the game with both a smash-mouth running attack and a defense that never allowed James Madison to breathe.
Brown ran for touchdowns of 11 and eight yards on the team’s first two possessions, which stunned an opponent that believed it had a chance behind 10 Football Bowl Subdivision transfers on its roster. Of the Dukes’ eight possessions in the first half, seven resulted in punts and the eighth was an interception.
Brown threw incomplete passes to Stefon Diggs and Deon Long to begin Maryland’s second possession of the second quarter. Brown settled in soon thereafter, leading the Terps on a 15-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in his circus run to make it 24-0.
His most memorable throw came on a play-action call in the third quarter, when he hit a wide open Long for a 41-yard touchdown. Long said there were times Saturday when he and Brown would have to look at each other and say “we’re going to have to get it right next time.”
“Just sort of shake hands, and say, we’ll get it back,’” Long said. “He holds himself to high standards, as well as we do.”
Long finished with just two catches in his first game back since last October, when he and fellow wide receiver Stefon Diggs suffered broken legs in the same game. Diggs had five receptions for 53 yards, including a one-handed catch along with a 59-yard kick return in which he high-stepped and danced up the sideline.
Brown rushed for 61 yards on just seven carries. Maryland alleviated pressure on its passing game by establishing a ground attack that gained 295 yards, including 86 from Brandon Ross and 81 from Wes Brown.
The Dukes were simply overwhelmed up front. Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said earlier this week that the team’s 3-4 defensive scheme allows players at free safety and the top corner position to flourish, and safety Sean Davis benefited Saturday. Davis was a menace from the opening drive, helping Maryland control JMU quarterback Vad Lee, a versatile Georgia Tech transfer.
Lee, who ran for two touchdowns when Georgia Tech blew out Maryland at Byrd Stadium two years ago, finished Saturday’s game 16-for-37 passing for 141 yards and two interceptions. James Madison’s last desperate chance to get to back into the game fizzled after Lee avoided a blitz by Davis only to be picked off by Jeremiah Johnson in the end zone late in the second quarter. It was the second time Davis put Lee on the turf, and he brought the home crowd to its feet with another jarring hit on special teams.
“Every time I’m on that field I’m going to give it my all, whether its defense, special teams, or anything,” said Davis, who finished the game with 10 tackles.
It was that type of approach that C.J. Brown had inspired in his younger teammates as they watched the graduate student fight through a painful performance. By the fourth quarter he was on the sideline coaching up his teammates.
“It helps that we got the win,” Brown said. “I didn’t play well today. I understand that, and I’ll get better.”
Terps notes: Redshirt freshman Taivon Jacobs, who started as the Terps’ third wide receiver, left early in the game with a meniscus injury after getting tangled up with a defender on a deep pass to the end zone. . . . Senior Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, listed as the starting outside linebacker, did not play and was on the sideline in a walking boot. He was replaced by sophomore Yannick Ngakoue, who finished with five tackles.
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