Here are five things we learned after Maryland's 23-16 victory against Michigan Nov. 22.
CJ Brown, Redemption Time
When was the last time you heard "fabulous" and "C.J. Brown" in the same sentence when Randy Edsall was critiquing his sixth-year quarterback?
Evoking shades of the dual-threat Brown that willed Maryland to another breakthrough win -- last year at Virginia Tech to get Maryland bowl-eligible for the first time under Edsall -- Brown did it again Nov. 22 in leading Maryland past Michigan in the Big House to exorcise his season-long demons. Big time.
And that was the praise Edsall had for his star-crossed signal-caller as he walked off the field in Maryland's first-ever win at Michigan, improving the Terps to 5-1 on the road this season and adding to the "to-do" checklist road wins at both Penn State and Michigan as Maryland improved to 7-4, 4-3 Big Ten in their inaugural run.
But it was SO about Brown, who nearly lost his job this week after his three-pick performance last week versus Michigan State, and entered the Nov. 22 game with a very short leash.
Returning to the state where he was born, Brown did it both through the air and on the ground, completing 13-of-24 passes for 165 yards and no interceptions, while leading the Terps on the ground with 87 yards on 18 carries and a score. And had he not again been dogged by receiver drops (see last week's seven), he could have had 18 competes given at least six receiver/tight end drops Nov. 22.
It was a day of redemption for many Terps, but just like that Virginia Tech a year ago in Blacksburg, Brown cooly took an 8-yard quarterback sweep in for the score to start the fourth quarter to tie the game at 16, while his crucial, perhaps game-saving stretch for the first down on a third and six play with 8:22 left kept the winning drive alive. And on that one, Brown hit another maligned Terp, receiver Amba Etta-Tawo, for a clutch 36-yard complete to the Wolverines 3 yard line, setting up Wes Brown's game-winning one-yard touchdown stretch with 5:59 left.
C.J. Brown finally found his groove (despite suffering an awkward hit to the head/neck early), and while his receivers failed him again in the first half, he carried the offense through the second with more opportunism in the run game, and a heck of a lot more confidence. He was in the "zone," getting the ball out quickly and accurately, and poised and confident in the pocket, which he displayed a few times including a heady shovel pass on the move early to Wes Brown.
Maybe it was Edsall's wake-up call Nov. 16 to Brown on his weekly teleconference, that if he did not produce backup Perry Hills was going to see action. But it could not have happened at a more timely occasion, or to a post-grad signal-caller hoping to leave UMD with some fonder memories than this, his final season, has afforded.
Terps Receivers, Redemption Part II
During the course of the 2014 season, every offensive unit has failed Maryland at times.
And last week it was the receivers turn, who down star playmaker Stefon Diggs collapsed under the bright lights of the Michigan State game at Byrd with seven drops, and only to add insult to injury, emerging freshman Juwann Winfree was suspended for two weeks in the ensuing days.
With an already-depleted unit due to suspensions/injury (see the Jacobs brothers, and Diggs until the bowl game), if ever a unit needed a bounce-back it was the wide out corps under first-year receivers coach Keenan McCardell. A perfectionist and a motivator, the former NFL star could hardly reach this group this month, with the Michigan game starting off just as miserably.
The first two series at Michigan were doomed by drops by converted defensive back/running back/slot receiver Jacquille Veii, who would go on to register three 'yips' in the game, only to be followed by miscues by Daniel Adams, the junior who came back from oblivion last week versus MSU with a 20-yard touchdown catch, as well as senior Deon Long and redshirt freshman Derrick Hayward, the latter of which could have gone for a touchdown late in the first half of a taut, offensive-starved game.
The Terps, at the Michigan 4-yard line, would have to settle for the third Brad Craddock field goal of the day, denied the end zone once again. And Adams, showing his inexperience later, suffered a costly procedure call on third and nine late in the third with Maryland trying to drive again.
But in the end the corps made up enough, Veii bouncing back to lead Maryland with three grabs for 45 yards and a key fourth quarter first down snatch just before Etta-Tawo's back-breaker, while junior Marcus Leak also came back from the abyss with two late grabs on the series C.J. Brown scored his game-tying touchdown.
There's still plenty of work to do, and the return of Diggs in the post-season will give Maryland their game-breaker back. But it was positive to see Long, Leak, Veii and especially Etta-Tawo, he of three galling drops last week against MSU, bounce back late when the Terps needed them most. Had they not, they would have spoiled C.J. Brown's heroic day at the Big House.
O-Line Shakeup Pays Off?
It's hard to say if the Terps insertion of little used journey-man senior Jake Wheeler at starting left tackle Nov. 22 all of a sudden made Maryland a running juggernaut (hardly), but the results look fairly positive right now.
Eleven games in and the first shakeup of the line, one that was trying unsuccessfully to push one of the nation's most anemic run games, well, it may be a little too late in the grand scheme of things. Wheeler was inserted for starter Michael Dunn, who flipped over to the right tackle spot with Ryan Doyle now the backup.
The Terps didn't evoke shades of Wisconsin or Indiana running the ball today, but they gained a respectable (at least by Maryland standards this season) 147 yards on 35 carries (4.2 yards per carry), with C.J. Brown (18-87) running often and with confidence for the most part on designed quarterback runs or when things broke down.
And on Brown's 8-yard scoring scamper late, Wheeler, all 6-7, 310-pounds of him, was out front leading the blocks as the Terps tied up the game.
Another group that has taken its sharp hits from the critics all season for its lack of run push and physicality, the group, knock on wood, has remained healthy, and now may have a better force on the left side, Brown had more time in the pocket, and it showed with his confidence and less 'happy feet' under duress as he has been much of the year.
Meanwhile, Wes Brown led all Terps backs with 39 yards on 11 carries and a score, while even now-backup Brandon Ross had a key first down run late. And the Terps didn't turn the ball over today, something which has bit Terps backs much of the season.
The Terps experiment up front today seemed to pay off, and if nothing else, gave them another guy in the rotation, given Wheeler had played little so far this season. Going an entire season with the same five starters, and little reserve play, may have been too taxing anyhow. C.J. Brown took more of what the defense was giving him, and it helped that he wasn't constantly looking over his shoulder, or down the barrel of oncoming rush.
Gotta Give it Up To 'D'
If there has been one constant of late (of course next to place-kicker Brad Craddock) it's been Maryland's bend-but-don't break defense.
Time and again today at Michigan the Terps defense, which has had its share of ups and down this season but may have had one of its best performances of the season last week versus No. 12 MSU, though it was wasted, the unit has bowed up under duress.
On Nov. 22 they, for the most part, kept Michigan's offense in check, limiting the Spartans to three field goals and just one touchdown despite some short field situations, which came on a Devin Gardner 15-yard touchdown keeper.
But for the most part, beyond some Gardner scampers or broken plays he took 14 times for 84 yards and the touchdown, the Terps' "D" bowed up on critical third and fourth down plays and kept most everything underneath. Gardner was neutralized for the most part (13-24-106 yards passing, one pick), didn't have multiple completions of over 10 yards until late, while top Wolverines wideout Devin Funchess, the 6-5 standout, was held in check on a day he caught just five balls for 30 yards.
There was an array of heroes for the Terps' defense, from 5-7 corner Will Likely, who drew Funchess and came up with his Big Ten leading sixth pick of the year; to senior end Andre Monroe, who kept his sack streak alive with an eight-yard drop of Gardner in the fourth quarter; to safety Anthony Nixon having his biggest day of the season with a handful of stonewall stops; to senior corner J.J. Johnson, just back fully from a hammy injury, and his critical pass break-up on Funchess on fourth and three for Michigan with 4:15 to go.
Coordinator Brian Stewart's unit has risen up more as the season has come down the stretch, and today in limiting Michigan to 398 yards they didn't give up the big play and continued to get off the field. Much of the yardage was "between the 30s," while it also helped that the offense was finally able to sustain more drives, albeit late.
But no unit is clicking like the Terps' defense right now led by the mighty-mite Likely. The Terps snuffed Michigan drives out to field goals much of the day, including their very first, after a 52-yard gain on a punt fake set them up at the Maryland six yard line, but the Terps bowed up as the theme for the day.
Staff, Program Props Too
Not to dramatize a win over a down 5-6 Michigan program too highly, one that will likely have a new coach by next season, well, this could have been "one of those games" observers of the Terrapin football program situation remember for some years.
Let's start with Randy Edsall, who is bowl-bound, now winner of seven games (including three of four at Big Ten venues this season in Maryland's first run in the BIG), and with a solid shot of collecting eight, maybe even nine, 'W's this season. Whew.
Talk about nine lives, as in recent weeks it seemed he was, at times, a man walking the tight rope, the season one extreme or the other after lopsided losses at Wisconsin, at home to Michigan State, heck, even the historic win at Penn State marred by the pre-game no-handshake scandal.
This week Edsall was again roasted at times, this time for sticking with punchless six-year quarterback C.J. Brown, who has looked like a lost freshman at times this season. Edsall and Brown both sounded kind of desperate in the build-up to the game, throwing out clichés like "leave it all out on the field," or "or just go have fun and not worry." Even through the week that brought the news of Maryland's new indoor facility, it was tainted some by all of the offensive woes, and would Edsall finally make a quarterback switch at Michigan.
Well, despite his constant critics for everything from his one-voice policies and monotone weekly comments to his Top 50 recruit classes, well if his team and staff has one thing it is resolve. Without star playmaker Stefon Diggs, the only real threat all season beyond Brad Craddock to stretch the field (or get Maryland points), and yet another suspension last week, the players have kept striving, ever in the face of new kinds of adversity. From another historic spate of injuries, to the list of suspensions, to the lack of an offensive identity (who knows, maybe they found one today?), Edsall and Co. keep coming back from significant body blows.
Who knows, maybe this was one of those breakthrough wins for a program, which, there's no denying, is still looking for an identity and more traction in Year Four of Randy Edsall. He still scoffs when asked about 'statement games,' and Michigan is hardly the Michigan of old.
But today maybe was a statement about redemption, across the board, in many ways for the Terrapin football program. C.J. Brown, discarded by most heading into today, came back from the abyss with a warrior-like performance, while you can add offensive coordinator Mike Locksley to the list of Terps who took their share of jabs this week only to come through in the clutch. And someone has to get credit for that.
What We Learned After Michigan
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