Forewarning, this is an opinionated article.
We’re at the midway point of the 2013 NCAA season, and Maryland is still relevant. Think about that one for a second. It’s been three long, hard years of intestinal fortitude challenges watching the Terrapins play football since we could say that about the program. Ralph left in 2010 with a 9-win Maryland team, and with Saturday’s win against UVA Randy Edsall has finally reached that same total. Only for him, it has taken 2 1/2 seasons worth of football and a whole lot of misfortune. But now, it seems, Maryland is finally the team catching a few breaks.
After last year, any semblance of luck is revered. The quarterback fiasco of 2012 was one that felt like it set the program back by a decade. Even at four wins, Maryland was an unwatchable hodgepodge of floatsam, with the lone glimmer of hope being Stefon Diggs. But as I watched that UVA kick sail wide on Saturday, you could sense that every fan in the stadium was trying to grasp the unfamiliar feeling that some programs get a lot, and others nearly never do: luck.
It was apparent all over the game on Saturday. Caleb Rowe completed two passes that bounced off defenders hands and managed to fall into friendly arms for major chunks of yardage. The Terps gave up over 500 yards, Maryland was outrushed, committed more penalties, held the ball for less time, was a woeful 4-of-12 on converting third downs, turned it over three times, and bumbled up a potential game-closing drive with poor decision making on fourth down (probably should have been a QB sneak).
Wide right, 27-26, 5-1. One win from bowl eligibility. One win from respectability. Brad Craddock, you’ve absolved yourself.
Last year this win wasn’t happening. UVA sends that one right down the middle or the Terps miss a potential game winner as they did against NC State, and the team is left left rainy, disappointed, and sweating about Wake Forest on the road. Not so, as the football gods would have it. This team just seems to have a bit more luck going for it than in previous years. No, they’re not going to beat Florida State at home and yes, their starting quarterback did miss the game against UVA, but the luck is undeniable.
As it stands, you have to assume CJ Brown is going to be hurt more often than he will be healthy. There are few other college programs that require the QB depth that Maryland needs. In terms of QB play, you just have to assume that there won’t be one starter all season long at this point (it’s been nearly ten years since). You play with someone as electric as Brown, occasionally you’re going to get shocked. And Maryland has it this year. Even if Caleb Rowe didn’t manage to go out there and throw for over 300 yards (he did), you get the feeling that Ricardo Young would have brung the ruckus (Lord knows he wants to). And if you think Perry Hills wouldn’t have been able to manage that game to a victory, you take away from the fact that he is a very good leader.
And yet Caleb Rowe, a sophomore coming off an ACL tear, stepped in and is now 1-0. When your backup can go in, you typically expect a drop in production. But Rowe’s completion percentage wasn’t far off from Brown’s career average (53% against FBS teams), and he still threw for a whole lot of yards. Rowe was also the QB1 for a team that scored 27 points. He was errant and at times completely careless, but it’s a backup QB at Maryland, not Ohio State or Clemson. But if you’re taking notice at statistics, then be sure to look at Stefon Diggs and Deon Long’s receiving yards. For only the second time this season (and against far better competition), Maryland’s top two targets saw a ton of action, and they had a third guy (Ross) go for over 80 yards as well. When’s the last time that has happened? When’s the last time that happened with a backup QB at Maryland?
But where Maryland had absolutely no rushing ability last game, they were lucky enough to have a QB whose throwing capability opens up the field for Brandon Ross. Without their second leading rusher (Brown), they still managed to go for 136 yards on the ground. Brandon Ross had himself a career day (in finding the end zone, at least), and even Albert Reid showed some flashes of solid play. One man goes down, a bunch more step up.
Even the defense had a little luck. So far this season Maryland has lost two starters in the secondary and their man in the middle, Matt Robinson. Losing the latter might have hurt the most considering how wide open things were and how great a game Jake McGee had. But even with two true freshman starting on defense and a couple guys with scant experience, Maryland’s defense held on just enough to come away with a W. They lucked out this week, and may end up getting a few guys back by Clemson, which would in turn make them a more formidable unit.
All in all, Maryland is lucky to be at 5-1 right now and going up against one of the worst teams in the conference next week. But this is a lucky team, and they should enjoy that while they can.