Brown Back on Track
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- C J Brown was back where he belonged -- smiling, surrounded by media, and talking zone read -- at the Terps' Tuesday media luncheon at the Gossett Football Team House.
And for the star-crossed junior and a Terps football program on edge, there couldn't have been a better sight.
Brown, who hadn't been right in the Terps' most potent offensive look since early this season (dogged by a spate of injuries culminating in the wicked hit absorbed at Florida State), bounced back big at Virginia Tech to help turn Maryland's fortunes just when the season looked doomed.
He ran the zone read, and other broken-play runs, to help keep the Hokies vaunted defense off-balance. Brown rushed for a season-high 122 yards and two scores, including the game-winner in overtime, for a dramatic 27-24 win at Lane Stadium.
The win lifted Maryland to 6-4 and made the Terps bowl eligible, while the junior Brown's spirits rose exponentially after a season plagued by injury and frustration trying to get UMD's offense and his career on track.
Simply, Maryland's best hope for offensive success is the zone read with Brown (4.5 40-yard dash) running loose and confident. Maryland fans hadn't seen that since the first two games, when Brown spread defenses out with his run ability. But ever since the offense has lacked identity as the Terps dropped three straight heading into Tech.
The offensive line, still Maryland's most problematic unit and once more juggled on the eve of the Tech game thanks to injuries, is built for the zone scheme what with scant ability to smash opponents in the run game.
Maryland and Brown took advantage of "man" looks at Tech in the option game as he racked up his sixth career 100-yard rushing day and third this season. Those six games over the century mark lead all active ACC quarterbacks, and he now holds seven of the top 10 rushing performances by a Terps' quarterback all-time. The three-yard, diving game-winner in overtime just inside the pylon was his biggest run last week, and culminated a series in which head coach Randy Edsall said Maryland ran the ball "down their throats" as UMD finally asserted its will and won the line of scrimmage.
And it was all thanks to Brown, who was healthy and confident and aggressively hitting holes like he hadn't in seemingly months.
"It feels good. Especially coming off a win like that and to go out and there and just perform and come out with that win in that fashion as exciting," Browns said. "I feel very confident. I think I was always confident. It was just a matter of I could go out there and execute it physically the way I knew I could."
Brown said he felt his healthiest -- coming off head, groin, hip and other injuries this season -- at Tech, and it showed in both the run and passing game. In addition to his many big runs, his intermediate and deep balls had better accuracy and touch after some weeks struggling in those areas as well. He tossed a beautiful 16-yard touchdown pass to receiver Nigel King in the back of the end zone to help put Maryland up 21-7 in the third quarter, while he hit Amba Etta for a 43-yard gain, proving he was on-point in both elements of the offense.
He also had a career-high 23 rushes and wasn't hesitant to tuck it and run. His longest jaunt was a 38-yarder to help open things up early.
But more than personal stats, Brown said winning at Lane Stadium, and getting victory No. 6, swung the momentum for the program. He later called the win a "tipping point."
"I think it was a huge win for us to get that monkey off our back. And to have two games left, and just another great opportunity this week tom add on and get No. 7," he said.
It was an emotional breakthrough for all of the Terps, led by Brown as well as Edsall, who did a victory sprint and gave multiple hugs afterwards in a rare burst of emotion.
"It was funny. Because after I scored I knew it was a touchdown, I knew I hit the pylon, and none of my body parts hit the ground," Brown said. "And I just see [Edsall] running like a goof ball and hands pumping in the air and everyone just going nuts. And you know, it was just as exciting time. Anytime you see a coach run it's always funny."
Now the focus shifts to Senior Day this Saturday and the Terps' final home ACC game, all against Maryland's former defensive coordinator Don Brown, who is Boston College's current defensive mastermind.
"I was here when Coach Brown was here, so we have seen his defense numerous times, saw him last year when he was at UConn. They give you a lot of different looks, they try to disguise a lot of things, and they bring a lot of pressure. It will be a good challenge for us," Brown said. "He's a fiery, competitive guy. And he competed every day in practice and he hated to lose to the offense, so he'll be out there and I am looking forward to the challenge."
Brown hit several long gains downfield at Tech, but still he and the new receiver corps (thanks to more injuries) are getting on the same page. Etta was a prime example, coming up with a few big plays but also leaving some on the field in a few instances with deep balls. Brown lost speedy playmaker Levern Jacobs (head) from his already limited receiving corps, which saw its top two performers, Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, go down with broken legs at Wake Forest Oct. 19. Maryland's entire corps of slot receivers was missing at Tech, so Nigel King moved to the spot.
"We looked at the film. Tried to keep feeding him the ball. [Etta] made a couple great catches out there, and yeah, he wanted to have some back. So we'll just out there this week in practice and continue to work on them," Brown said of working with wideouts like Etta.
His teammates have rallied around Brown, who is one of the most popular Terps and often a barometer on the team. Brown took what the defense gave him at Tech, and didn't try to improvise or do too much, something that had gotten him in trouble the last few weeks, especially during the Syracuse loss. He looked for, and aggressively hit, the right holes at Tech.
"C.J. played a great game. He played a great overall game. He stuck to the game plan and was able to make plays. And as long as the offense is on the field is good for the defense," said senior defensive end Marcus Whitfield.
Said Terps junior safety A.J. Hendy of his junior quarterback: "It's great to see C.J. have a performance like that, especially that last play. Through the weeks through the season people haven't been saying the best things about him, so it's good for him to bounce back and prove people wrong."
Brown said the 15 seniors, who he came in with before earning a medical hardship year, will add to the emotion. It's a star-crossed class that was gutted early in the Edsall era with attrition.
"It means the world," Brown said. "To come in with those guys, and the few that are still left, you want to send them out the right way. I know it will definitely be an emotional day for us, and I am excited to go out there and perform with those guys."
Brown also has yet another offensive line configuration to work behind. This week new starting left tackle Ryan Doyle remains there after getting the nod at Tech when Moise Larose, the freshman, went down to injury in the Syracuse game. Brown said communication and consistency remain the biggest issues, and playing to the line's strengths and weaknesses now.
"I think they did great," Brown said. "And we've been battling with that problem all year, mixing and matching. I just got to make sure I communicate with them what I see and talk to Coach [Tom] Brattan and meet on the sidelines, and I pick their brain and what they are seeing, and kinda what I want to go out and do and just kinda go from there."
In the aftermath of Saturday's win, Brown said he came back to campus and hung out with teammates "watching all the replays and pictures and it was just a good time," he said. Now he said the mission is to keep it going, which starts up against Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Byrd Stadium.
Brown said he never doubted himself, and simply kept visualizing not trying to do too much. But he said last Saturday at Tech he was ready to do anything "and just got out there and play football" regardless. Besides taking advantage of the Tech alignments, he said he stayed sharp mentally. It was in the physical parts of the game he had fallen short in recent weeks due to injuries.
But now he's healthy and ready to continue leading the offensive during these final two regular season games.
"Six just makes you eligible. You are not guaranteed anything, and we just want to….eight's ideal obviously," Brown said. "But we're going to focus on this week to try and get No. 7."
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