COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The Terps are sitting at 4-2, rank fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at 34.7 points a game, and for the first time ever in program history have scored at least 24 points in their first six games.
But for sixth-year starting quarterback C.J. Brown, who hadn't been brought out to the media in three weeks before his Oct. 14 appearance at Tyser Tower as the Terps opened Iowa week, well, it's hardly been rosy.
A stirred-but-maybe-not-quite-shaken Brown arrived with the black cast on his left, non-throwing wrist that he has had since the second half of the Sept. 27 game at Indiana, and faced the media with all the inevitable questions. They ranged from whether he was still the starter, to his crushing pick out of the end zone to end the first half in the Ohio State loss, to backup Caleb Rowe breathing down his neck more and more with the pass game still feast or famine.
The star-crossed Brown has never truly found his stride this season (7 touchdowns, 4 picks, 57.5 completion percentage) through the air, nor looked that comfortable in the pocket, be it with reads or accuracy. He has been throwing high, low, in traffic -- and defenses are loading the box as they seemingly don't respect his arm as much. It has all made for an inconsistent mix, which has had many calling more and more for the hair-trigger Rowe, who has been more decisive and accurate in the passing game.
But Brown answered all the questions on Oct. 14 accordingly, like the savvy veteran he is, though somewhat monotone and perhaps a bit in a bunker.
Brown's most animated moments came when he got on the topic of how he spent his bye week, which was spent decompressing after six games, with his family.
Brown's father, Clark, is a former Michigan State quarterback; younger brother Jordan is a defensive back at James Madison; and younger sister, Katie, is a student at MSU. In other words, the family is steeped in football as well as the Big Ten.
"I went and visited my brother up at JMU. And I watched him beat up on Towson, so that was good to see, " Brown quipped. "Just kinda got away and hang out with the family and recharge. It was a break we hadn't had in like 10 weeks or whatever."
Recharge he did, which, who knows, mentally may be the best thing for him now, as Brown has at times over-thought things and locked up in the pocket. Conversely, Rowe has just let it flow, tossing the ball around almost like in the backyard playing pitch-and-catch without a worry in the world.
Maybe what Brown's brother did Oct. 11 for JMU will rub off on older sibling C.J., as the Terps need him more and more with the season at a crossroads and the heart of the Big Ten schedule looming.
"He had a nice game. He had an on-sides kick recovery, and he had about four tackles," Brown beamed of his younger brother, who is a reserve safety for the Dukes.
But back to his own game, C.J. Brown said Oct. 14 that he did his fair share of self-evaluation during the bye week as well.
"I think the biggest thing is....trying not to force, but understanding not to get away from my athleticism, my ability to still use my feet," Brown said of his dual-threat ability in the zone-read, which has also been limited really since the West Virginia game. "I think that was the biggest thing, when going back and looking at the film, and looking at the tape, was I was kinda leaving some plays out there that in the past that I have made. And you know, trying to get back to that."
Brown said he thought his passing game had been improving week to week, with both reads and accuracy, led by the first half at Indiana. But then there was the regression versus Ohio State. He said the pick, which took what could have been just a 14-point deficit at the half against OSU and turned it into an insurmountable 21-points, was one he wished he had back. It was the kind of mistake you do not see from sixth-year seniors coming out of their end zone in shotgun.
"Obviously, I thought I saw one thing and you know I didn't see it," Brown said. "Their linebacker sat there and that kind of throw -- you can't make that, especially two minutes before the half against a good team.
It was a game that, yet again, on the very first series Brown threw off-target to two open targets P.J. Gallo and Jacquille Veii, leaving two more plays on the field (a season-long trend) and forcing a three-and-out. That set the tone for a game where he was sidelined at the half for Rowe.
"I am still trying to get better and better. I think that is the biggest thing week-to-week," Brown said of his own evaluation.
Brown said his bruised wrist is fine -- it's not limiting him -- while he has gotten back in the weight room to work. He knows a physical, defensive front is coming in Iowa Oct. 18. The Terps must continue to try and find more balance, run-to-pass, and open things up for their talented playmakers in space.
"They are going to be physical," Brown said. "They are big up front, the linebackers are physical, and they are just disciplined all over the field. Just line up and play, that's what they are going to do," Brown said.
The Terps are still looking to get the ball to their elite playmakers, who have come and gone -- as has the Terps' passing game. Iowa is a team they may be able to have some success on the perimeter against, with the likes of Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and the other wideouts.
Brown said "consistency" remains the biggest issue for the offense. The unit can't be up and down "on a rollercoaster" between turnovers, lack balance between the pass and run, and needs to produce more big plays. The latter three issues have been mostly confined to a few games -- not all -- as the Terps have 25 plays of 20 or more yards, including eight at Indiana, so far. Of the 25, 10 have been for scores. But at the same time, not since the opener against James Madison have the Terps been able to run the ball with success, with several clunkers below 100 yards total in games.
"Anytime you get the running game going, it's going to put more pressure on the defense, which opens up the pass game," Brown said. "And a lot of guys are sitting back in the pass game with our receivers and we're getting those 5-man boxes, so we got to pound the ball. That definitely will be something we have an emphasis on, and that falls on me too. I've got to be able to run better, too."
Brown said after he watched the OSU film that neither he, nor his coaches, thought his entire body of work was as bad as at first blush. He said he has to continue to take more of what defenses are giving him and not force things. And if nothing is there, he needs to "take off" and use his feet.
On the quarterback battle/whispers, he said:
"Any quarterback knows that if you are not going to go out there and produce, they are going to go to the next guy. Anytime you don't have momentum or things aren't going your way or you are not producing, they are going to make that change. And I understand that, it comes with the role, it comes with the territory.
"But at the same time, there is competition everywhere, and you know Caleb has been pushing me and we are going to continue to push each other. Obviously, you don't want to look over shoulder, you don't want to know that if you mistake you are going to get pulled. But at the same time you just got to go out there and play ball."
Randy Edsall is standing by his senior. He remarked immediately after the Ohio State loss that Brown remains his starter, and the fact they rolled him out to media interviews this week -- the only quarterback to visit -- speaks well for boosting any possible wavering confidence on his part.
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