It lasted just five plays, took less than two minutes off the clock and came against a significantly inferior opponent, but the Terrapins football team’s first touchdown drive in its season-opening 43-10 win over Florida International spoke volumes about the value of a healthy C.J. Brown.
On the drive’s second play, Brown, the quarterback who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in training camp, made a perfectly timed option pitch to wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who scampered down the sideline for a 26-yard gain.
Two plays later, the veteran signal caller eluded pressure from Panthers defenders, and while sprinting to his right, flicked a 27-yard strike to wide receiver Deon Long on the right sideline. Brown then capped the efficient 86-yard drive by keeping the ball on a read-option and sprinting 29 yards into the end zone.
In that quick sequence, Brown proved something to the Terps fans who endured an unprecedented injury-induced quarterback carousel last season: The Terps finally have a legitimate starting quarterback — one with quality decision-making ability, speed and throwing accuracy — who could put 2012’s offensive struggles to rest, at least for one game.
Brown was 20-of-23 for 281 yards and three touchdowns through the air and rushed for 105 yards and two more scores, becoming the first Terp to account for at least five touchdowns in a game since Scott McBrien scored six against North Carolina in 2003.
With Brown leading the way, the Terps scored more points in the first half (40) than they did in any full game last season.
And yes, plenty of Terps played well Saturday, but Brown was the difference.
“Your quarterback sets the tempo for who you are as a team,” coach Randy Edsall said. “Just not only his abilities, but how he handles himself.”
All you have to do to appreciate Brown’s impact is think back to the season opener a year ago, when quarterback Perry Hills led the Terps offense in a 7-6 win. That performance, needless to say, was a far cry from the Terps’ outburst against FIU.
“After the first series, all the nerves and cobwebs were off,” Brown said.
It sure appeared that way. Brown threw only three incompletions, made solid decisions in the read-option offense and was moving around confidently.
Brown, a 21-year-old graduate student with two years of eligibility remaining, credits his assuredness on the field to the preparation he put in all offseason.
“It’s all about visualization and seeing yourself do the plays and execute and succeed,” Brown said Saturday. “That’s what we did today as a team, and it felt really good.”
Brown’s study habits benefited the Terps because they helped him make the right reads on plays, but just as importantly, he sets the tone for the team with his work ethic. His drive and leadership push the Terps’ players to work harder, Diggs said, and his steadiness helps keep the team even-keeled.
Diggs, despite posting solid numbers in his freshman campaign, concedes that the offense struggled to deal with last season’s challenges without a clear leader. That’s all changed with Brown back under center.
“He keeps poised, keeps his composure no matter what’s going on,” Diggs said. “Good play or bad play, he keeps it going. If we do have a bad play, he picks us all up.”
And moving forward, the sophomore playmaker expects Brown to perform as well as he did Saturday — with his play and his command of the huddle.
“He’s going to bring out his ‘A’ game every week,” Diggs said. “I expect that from him.”
Therein lies the biggest difference between this year’s Terps and the team from last year: There are expectations for the quarterback, and he looks ready to reach them.