COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- There’s been so much B1G this season it’s about time the Terrapins got to the 'Big House.' That event occurs Nov. 22 at 3:30 P.M. when Maryland meets Michigan for the first time in 24 years in 109,901-seat Michigan Stadium.
It’s a Big Ten Conference game this go-round but it’s also a big game, particularly for the Wolverines (5-5, 3-3), who have won three of their last four and need one more win to become bowl eligible.
It’s also a big game for Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown, who is hearing coach Randy Edsall might not be completely against a big change if the Terrapins (6-4, 3-3) need a lift offensively.
“The thing is I don’t want to make a quarterback change,” said Edsall at his Nov. 18 media conference. “When I said that (Sunday), I really don’t want to do that but if a situation would call for that you have to be able to make that decision. And when you make those decisions you’ve got to say can the person who would come in do a better job than the guy you’re taking out.”
Edsall added that redshirt sophomore Perry Hills, who had a scoring pass against Iowa, and redshirt freshman Shane Cockerille have been splitting snaps at the No. 2 spot behind Brown since Caleb Rowe was lost to his knee injury in Week Six. One is working with the offense, and the other is working with the scout team against the defense, and then they switch after each period.
“If they get their opportunity, I’m sure they’ll go in and do a good job,” said the coach.
Hills has thrown 10 passes this season, and Cockerille has only seen some work on special teams as a novelty covering kicks, a nod to his athletic ability. It would be big for the Terrapins coming down the stretch and eying a bowl game, if Brown just shook off some of the recent troubles and shined Nov. 22 on the big stage in the ‘Big House.’
“C.J. is out there competing and doing everything he can to try to help the team win,” said Edsall. “He’s not throwing interceptions on purpose or trying not to hit the receivers. I just think the biggest thing with him is to just relax and go through the process. Let the process take you to where you’re supposed to go with the ball.”
Edsall’s biggest criticism of his sixth-year quarterback has been that Brown often makes a pre-snap read of the defense and locks in on where he’s going to throw, instead of reading keys as he drops back and the defense shifts. Notably, the big third quarter interception for a touchdown by Michigan State came on such a play.
The result was a big score and momentum shift when Maryland was within 16-7 of the 12th-ranked Spartans. The Terrapins would fall 37-15, their third loss in the last five games. The offense racked up 252 yards, nothing to write home about but far and away the best output for the squad in the last three games.
“Read your keys and take what they give you,” stressed Edsall. “If (Brown) does that and he does that on certain plays he does well. But when he doesn’t do that then he puts himself in some situations that aren’t good.”
Brown leads the team in rushing (375 yards) and passing this season, and has had the entire weight of the attack fall on him often this season with the complete lack of production from the running backs and the recent revolving door at wide receiver thanks to injuries and Stefon Diggs’ one-game suspension for his part in the Penn State pre-game fracas.
Brown knows the deal, though.
“I understand that, it comes with the position,” he said of the backups possibly seeing action. “If you’re not going to produce, you know, they’re going to bring in someone else who will. They’ve done it at other positions and I’m just another guy on the team, and I understand I have to produce. I have to go out there and get the job done.”
Run, Terps, Run
Sometimes a quarterback change ignites a struggling offense, change for change’s sake. It would be nice to crank up the run game, if possible, and that will be tough against a Michigan defense allowing just 2.82 yards per rush, the third lowest average in all of major college football.
“This week we have emphasized that we have to run the ball and it’s something we’re really focused on,” said senior guard Silvano Altamirano, who has started every game his season. “We have to make sure we go through with our assignments and it they bring extra men in the box, we have to change the play or just make sure we run the play as best we can.”
The last three games Maryland has rushed 75 times for 85 yards, low-lighted by last week’s 17-carries-for-6-yards effort against Sparty. Even in the win at Penn State, Maryland rushed 30 times for only 33 yards. In the lopsided loss to Wisconsin, it was 28 rushes for 46 yards.
“The biggest thing is their defensive line, everyone has a strong defensive line and then they’re bringing more people in the box,” said Brown. “That’s what we’re seeing and we’ve been able to adjust with the throws but really, we’re just playing good defenses. We have to man up, though, and run the football.”
No Maryland running back has gained more than 40 yards in any of the last five games. Wes Brown got a start Nov. 15 and carried nine times for five yards. Of course, Maryland beat Penn State on the road in a big stadium with a paltry rushing total.
In fact, say what you will about Maryland the Terrapins’ first jaunt through the Big Ten but they’ve been pretty danged good on the road. Overall, they’re 4-1 away from Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium, pretty good at silencing other teams’ crowds.
Edsall had trouble putting a finger on the reason for the road success. “I don’t know, maybe there (are) less distractions on the road and guys rally around each other a little bit more. Our preparation is really the same. The routine is the same. It’s hard to explain. When we go on the road, we try to make the guys understand it’s the 70 of us, and the number of coaches we have against everybody else.”
Brown, who has been around and at Maryland, even longer than Edsall, thinks he knows. “I think just the camaraderie of the team when we go on the road, understanding it’s still a business trip,” he said. “It’s us against the world. You can tune everything else out, especially with the amount of experience and the guys that have played. You don’t have to worry about whose coming to the game or tickets. You just go play the game.”
But playing in such a storied venue, Michigan Stadium, built in 1927. Is that daunting or just fun?
“It will be fun,” said Brown. “We’re trying to go up there and get another win. I think it’s something we’ll reflect on later in life. Right now it’s another game.”
“I’ve heard even though it’s a big stadium it’s not the loudest stadium so that may not be as big a factor,” said Altamirano. “I’m excited to play in the ‘Big House.’”
“It is exciting,” said senior defensive end Andre Monroe. “I mean it’s a place with a lot of tradition and when you get to a place like that, it’s nice to actually finally see it for yourself. It makes you feel like a part of it now. I think our team does fuel off the big environment. You grab that energy and you feed off the energy.”
Defense Doing the Job
Monroe is feeding on quarterbacks, too. He is second in the conference with 8.5 sacks (Ohio State’s Joey Bosa has 11.5), and with 23 sacks in his career, Monroe now trails only Mike Corvino’s (1979-82) school record of 24.
“I think about it from time to time but I don’t really try and focus on that because we need to win games with my teammates,” said Monroe. “And I think if we all just focus on winning and what you have to do to win, that will all take care of itself.”
Monroe knows what to expect from a big, beefy Michigan offensive line. “They have a nice little aggressive streak that we have to deal with and we have to be fundamentally sound because, and this has been the story on the whole season, if we make any type of error they will take advantage of it. That’s just how a lot of the teams, including Michigan, are.”
The Wolverines are starting to look a little nastier than early in the season. It’s Senior Day in Ann Arbor and a win – a week before Michigan laces ‘em up at The Horseshoe against Ohio State – and the Wolverines become bowl eligible in what has been a trying year.
Don’t be fooled, though, it’s not like the one-time perennial powerhouse just ran out of players. “They’ve got good players,” said Edall. “Michigan is one of the top teams in the country and they attract good players. They’re aggressive on defense. They run to the ball very well.”
The Wolverines have struggled on offense but senior quarterback Devin Gardner is playing his final home game with something to prove. Michigan’s top receiver is junior Devin Funchess, who is tied for third in the Big Ten and 44th in the NCAA with 5.6 receptions per game, and is also among leaders with his 66.1 yards per game. At 6-5, 230 pounds, Funchess is literally a load for the smallish Maryland secondary.
“He’s a big target, he attacks the ball,” said Sean Davis, who will start at corner for the third straight game. “I heard he was fast but I haven’t really seen that. I have to watch more film.”
Defensively, Maryland will try to take away the run, and then try to limit Gardner, who can make plays running or passing. Kind of sounds like another quarterback who is going to be in Ann Arbor Nov. 22.
There’s a slight chance Brown may have his go-to guy if Stefon Diggs can get cleared and practice. His lacerated kidney may not have been as bad as initially reported, and he’s trying to come back.
“We’ll make a determination at the end of the week on Stefon and where he’s at,” is all Edsall would say Nov. 18.
Edsall would have rather talked about the weather. He liked the cold temperatures rolling into College Park. “Having practice out there this morning will get us ready. It looks like the temperatures, at least right now are colder here than they are out in Ann Arbor on [Nov. 22].”
The Terrapins can envision a low-scoring game where they make a big play at some point to turn the tide. The defense has kept them in the last two games, and they’ve had some help come back like senior strongside linebacker Matt Robinson returning last week.
Robinson, who NFL scouts like (if he can stay healthy), chipped in eight tackles and made a difference, the kind of commitment that lifts a team down a grueling stretch. “Matt wasn’t a hundred percent and he’s still not 100 percent, but playing is important to Matt, and he was cleared to play,” said Edsall. “And again, he’s an experienced guy. He’s a smart guy that understands the scheme and the system we have. It’s like having a coach on the field because of the way he communicates. That’s one of the biggest things, the communication aspect with him for our defense is so much better. He’s also one of those guys that is a very calming influence on everyone that’s out there.”
Inside linebacker L.A. Goree recalled one play last week where he was moving in to make a hit, and Robinson appeared out of nowhere to nail the runner. “I was like, we got Matt back,” said Goree. “He’s another leader for us.”
The defense is girding for the challenge, maybe best expressed by Monroe when asked about how long the defense has been forced to be on the field with the offensive troubles recently.
“No matter how long we’re out there, they can’t win if they don’t score,” he said. “That’s the mentality that we’ve been using to continue to go forward.”
Maryland Ready For Big Game in ‘Big House’
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