COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It was hard to nitpick Maryland’s 52-7 season-opening win over James Madison Saturday but one Terp shaking his head was quarterback C.J. Brown.
Brown ran for three touchdowns to literally put the game away in the first half in front of a sun-soaked crowd of 45,080 at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium but the ultra-senior wasn’t happy.
“I didn’t play too well today in terms of throwing the football,” said the sixth-year signal-caller. “The stats speak for themselves, and that’s unacceptable.”
Whoa, timeout, C.J. Your Terrapins racked up 471 total yards, scored the most points since a 62-14 victory over Wake Forest in 2010, and won going away. Maybe we’re setting expectations just a bit high?
Maryland coach Randy Edsall admitted his quarterback was a little off target at times but he’ll take the end result and the rest of Brown’s day – 61 yards on seven rushes, those three scores and a lot of good decisions all day long against a defense so new that no one knew exactly what to expect. Turns out the coaches, scouting film from all over the James Madison coaching staff’s previous stops, figured it out pretty good on both sides of the ball.
“We had a good scheme, it wasn’t my first time seeing those plays out on the field today,” said safety Sean Davis who had 10 tackles and forced an interception on a blitz. “We weren’t too sure exactly what we were going to get but we watched a lot of Ohio State film (where JMU co-offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer had been) and that’s what they ran so we were well prepared.”
Particularly on the money downs. While JMU got off 81 offensive plays and had 302 yards, the Dukes were just four of 19 on third downs and Maryland forced three turnovers and just missed a shutout.
“The key was Quinton Jefferson, Andre Monroe and Darius Kilgo were always in (quarterback Vad Lee’s) face,” said inside linebacker L.A. Goree of his front three. “And a couple of blitzes we had. With a quarterback who can run, you just have to always let him know you’re going to be there.”
Lee had famously beaten Maryland two years ago with two rushing scores in a 33-13 win when he ran the Ramblin’ Wreck. Now one of 10 FBS transfers at Madison, Lee was just wrecked Saturday afternoon. He was harried into 16-of-37 passing, 141 yards, two interceptions and two sacks. He netted just 27 yards rushing even though he had one run of 34 yards.
“I think he was under pressure and Maryland had a lot to do with that,” said Dukes coach Everett Withers, in his first game at Madison.
Goree, stepping up in a somewhat depleted linebacking corps, had 14 tackles, two shy of his career high. Defensive ends Roman Braglio and Spencer Myers combined on a sack, diminutive cornerback William Likely had another one on a blitz, and Jeremiah Johnson and Anthony Nixon each came up with interceptions.
“If you look at the numbers on possession downs, we were really good,” said Edsall, who ran his opening day record to 4-0 at Maryland. “When you can get off the field on third down, that makes life a lot easier. It was a combination of guys putting pressure on the quarterback and the guys in coverage.”
As for Brown’s performance, Edsall protected the player who has been here longer than he has. “I really thought C.J. did a lot of really good things out there. You take a look at some of the runs he had out there and how he got in the end zone, I couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s a competitor and warrior, and goes out there and lays it on the line.”
Brown was 11 of 24 for 111 yards and a touchdown. If that wasn’t up to his standards, well, he seemed to take it out on Duke defenders, running over and through them. The quarterback took the Terrapins to touchdowns on the team’s first two possessions but then the game slowed despite two hurry-up offenses going head-to-head. Still, Maryland never let Madison in the game and Brown never made a big mistake to open the door.
After stopping the Dukes’ late first half scoring threat to take a 24-0 lead to the locker room, the Terrapins drove a stake in their heart with a quick score to start the third quarter. The big play was Stefon Diggs’ 59-yard kickoff return. Three plays later, Brown hit Diggs for 12 yards and then ran for 11 himself. Inside the 10, Brandon Ross ran right, hit resistance, broke a tackle and bounced back to his left for an 8-yard score and a 31-0 advantage at 12:20.
Diggs’ big return coupled with a 35-yard Likely punt return in the second quarter is sure to provide some scary footage for opposing special teams coaches the rest of the season.
Big Plays Bury Dukes
JMU’s beleaguered Lee had a 19-yard completion to Sean Tapley to jumpstart a potential drive but three plays later a Lee pass was tipped off a Dukes receiver and Nixon came up with an interception.
The Terrapins didn’t waste any time, Brown executing a play-action fake and finding Deon Long all alone behind the secondary for a 41-yard score on the next play, to make it 38-0 at 7:55.
“It was a good touchdown,” said Long, who had two catches for 48 yards. “I should have had a couple more. It was a certain coverage that they ran, and when I broke down, (the cornerback) shot hard outside so I stayed inside and C.J. put the ball on the money.”
Long, as with many things, had a different take on his quarterback’s throwing woes. “He always holds himself to high standards, as well as we do. He said he had a rough time throwing the ball but at the same time we didn’t throw the ball as much as we should have thrown the ball.”
That’s because Maryland was running the ball so effectively, particularly when the Terrapins went to more two tight-end sets in the second half. Brandon Ross carried 16 times for 86 yards and a score. Wes Brown was dynamic with 81 yards on 13 carries, and Albert Reid had five carries for 24 yards and a 12-yard score.
“It was opening up pretty well but I think what really helped us was we started out with a fast tempo and got (JMU) on the edge of their seats, so to speak,” said Ross. “I’m glad we got the lead so we could rotate backs in there.”
The Terrapins ran 85 plays, including 50 rushes for 285 yards. Maryland had five rushing scores, the most on the ground since six in the 2010 Military Bowl. The Terrapins were also 6-for-6 in the red zone.
“The offensive line did a great job today, you can’t give them enough credit,” said C.J. Brown. “Running, passing, pass protection, we saw the blitzes coming and they did an excellent job picking them up.”
After Long’s long score, an all-out blitz got Lee to end the next possession, Likely crunching him for a 15-yard loss on third down. When the Terrapins got the ball back, backup Caleb Rowe replaced Brown at quarterback.
In Rowe’s second possession, he took the Terps 66 yards in seven plays for another score. He hit a big 17-yard pass to Diggs, and got a key 4-yard run to net a first down at the 2-yard line. On the next play, he hit fullback Kenny Goins, Jr., on a rollout for the score and a 45-0 lead with just 10 seconds left in the third quarter.
Goins had a big day – particularly as the age of fullbacks has seemingly passed – he rushed three times for 31 yards and caught the second touchdown pass of his career.
Diggs, like Long, playing his first game after suffering a broken leg last year, also piled up some numbers, catching five passes for 53 yards in addition to the 59-yard kickoff return.
“I was kind of surprised they kicked to Stefon to tell you the truth,” admitted Edsall.
That Escalated Quickly
That wasn’t the only issue the Dukes had under new management. James Madison committed nine penalties for 102 yards, including six penalties in the first five minutes of the game.
The Terrapins got the best of that first quarter. C.J. Brown culminated a quick 58-yard drive with an 11-yard scoring run, keeping around left end and bulling through a couple of tacklers to fall into the end zone for a 7-0 lead just 4:17 into the game. The Terps got a little help, the Dukes giving up 30 yards in penalties on a fair-catch interference and then a late hit out of bounds on Ross.
The Maryland defense, minus injured starting linebackers Cole Farrand and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, forced a three-and-out on the game’s first possession to set up the offense. The defense forced another three-and-out and again Likely was roughed up on a fair catch. A deep Brown throw drew a 15-yard pass interference and five plays later, Brown pumped right and ran through a huge hole untouched to his left, going eight yards for a 14-0 lead at 8:48.
A 10-play drive late in the first quarter, highlighted by a 22-yard Brown run, netted a 49-yard Craddock field goal that made it 17-0 at 2:28.
The Dukes could muster just 159 yards in a first half that featured a whopping 90 plays (45 by each hurry-up offense) and 58 of JMU’s yards came on the final march of the half that Jeremiah Johnson thwarted with an end zone interception set up by Davis’ safety blitz.
“That wasn’t a part of the game plan but we saw an opening and it worked,” said Davis. “We just kept going with it. My eyes got big when the hole opened up. I had to stay low and make a play. Good things happened.”
He hit Lee, and Johnson, in single coverage in the end zone, made the interception.
Farrand, who had missed the start with a leg injury, came in during the Madison march, and helped clog up the running game, too. Farrand played more in the second half but youngsters like sophomore weakside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue and even true freshman linebacker Jesse Aniebonam saw action and played well. Senior Alex Twine also came up big, making a start and registering seven tackles.
“I thought Alex played well,” said Edsall. “I thought he went in there and I thought he maybe got a little tired toward the end. I was teasing him about that on the sideline. I’m pleased with him and L.A. Goree.”
The Terrapins had taken up 6 minutes and 13 seconds of the second quarter with an 80-yard drive of their own when the offense did most of the damage on the ground. After Brown converted a third-and-10 to Diggs to start the march, 12 of the next 13 plays were runs. The one pass netted pass interference, one of eight first-half penalties for JMU (for 90 yards).
Brown got his third rushing touchdown on a fourth-down quarterback draw, again bouncing off defenders and teammate Andrew Isaacs and then lineman Andrew Zeller to score from two yards. The Terrapins led 24-0 with 6:13 left in the half.
The worst note of the first half for the Terrapins was the further loss of more wide receiver depth. With Levern Jacobs suspended earlier in the week, the Terps lost his brother Taivon Jacobs in the first quarter to what was reported as a meniscus injury. The severity was unknown but he was taken from the field.
Nigel King, who transferred just before school started, along with Levern Jacobs, were two of the top returning wide receivers from last season and Taivon Jacobs had already stepped up to help fill that void.
Marcus Leak moved up the depth chart and he caught two passes for 17 yards. Malcolm Culmer had a catch for five yards and tailback/slot receiver Jacquille Veii had a four-yard reception.
Rowe, trying to find Culmer, was intercepted by Jimmy Moreland who ran it back 12 yards to the Maryland 27, in the fourth quarter. Lee converted a fourth down with a 5-yard pass to Deane Cheatham at the 15. Three plays later John Miller cracked over from the one with 10:56 to play, and the Terrapins had lost their shutout.
Maryland answered, Rowe moving the team 82 yards in 14 plays and mercifully chewing up 6:49 on the clock before Reid dashed 12 yards for a score, cutting back twice, to make it 52-7 at 4:01.
Rowe converted a couple of third downs, first with a 25-yard screen to Wes Brown and then with a 20-yard screen to Reid. Wes Brown also picked up a fourth-and-one on the drive. Rowe was 7-of-11-for 75 yards and the score to Goins in his mop-up work.
The 52 points was the most allowed by James Madison since 1979
The Terrapins travel to South Florida next Saturday for a 3:30 kickoff. The next home game is Sept. 13 against West Virginia.
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