Rare is the storyline for the Maryland v. West Virginia football game a difficult one to find. From the Steve Slaton defection more recently, the Maryland losing streaks of the late 2000’s, to Scott McBrien being the Mountaineer slayer, to the Battle of Baltimore last year. Between the proximity, the percetion each state has of one another, and the overlapping recruiting territory, there’s just always something going on between the two schools that adds a layer of intrigue to these early season shootouts. This year is no different.
This game is going to be decided by which senior quarterback can put together the more complete game, period. It’s either going to be redshirt senior Mountaineers QB Clint Trickett, or redshirt senior Terps QB CJ Brown. And not to sound dramatic, but there’s no in between here.
Heading into this game, the two signal-callers couldn’t have taken different paths to get here, and yet they’re both very similar in their career paths. Trickett has been a gunslinger his whole life; his 5,300 yards passing and 59 passing TDs amassed playing high school ball in Florida are a testament to that. He was born with the pass-first mentality.
Contrast that with C.J. Brown, a Michigan-born-but-Pennsylvanian who threw for 3,845 yards, but was labeled a top dual-threat QB. His senior year he rushed for almost as many touchdowns (12) as he threw (14). Brown’s game has always been predicated on what he can accomplish with his legs as much as his arms.
But the two quarterbacks with equally bright careers heading into college have had just as hard a time cementing their legacies while there. For both players, injury and incumbents have prevented either from being able to get a full season’s worth of games to showcase their talent. Trickett initially began his career at Florida State in 2009, but that meant redshirting his freshman year because future NFLer E.J. Manuel was the starter. His redshirt freshman season meant continuing mop up duty while watching Manuel go to work. Then freshman Jameis Winston came along, and we all know how that story goes. Trickett, always a student both on the field and in the classroom, was basically told he would not be playing and transferred as a grad student to West Virginia. Trickett’s family had ties to the area, and Dana Holgorsen’s pass happy system seemed like the perfect fit.
Oddly enough, Trickett got his first start following the Mountaineers 37-0 shellacking at the hands of Maryland. But a shoulder injury sustained in his first game caused his play to deteriorate and ended up in offseason surgery. He also had some other bumps along the way, including a concussion against Texas.
For Brown, we all know the story well. Ralph Friedgen brought him in along with Danny O’Brien and redshirted him, but O’Brien was more of a Friedgen QB (read: traditional). Brown broke his collarbone during the first series of plays in 2010 against Morgan State, and it seemed highly unlikely Brown would see the field anytime soon after O’Brien’s stellar freshman campaign. But a regime change to Randy Edsall the next season meant Brown would get a shot a whole lot sooner. O’Brien and Edsall didn’t really mesh, while Brown was the exciting player who ignited Maryland’s offense. He’d start on and off that year.
Brown won the job outright in 2012 when O’Brien transferred, but a cut during preseason had him sit out all of 2012 during Maryland’s horrible 2-10 disaster. Brown would return last year to start again, only to suffer a concussion in the fifth game and lingering effects for the next few weeks.
This year, the two entered camp healthier than ever. Trickett’s surgery has clearly paid off. Trickett was able to sit down during his recovery and actually learn the WVU offense, which is a spread attack as opposed to his pro-style offense. He’s among the top five nationally in QBR, has seven touchdowns to no interceptions, nearly upset Alabama in his first week, and has generally look refreshed if not completely recovered and acclimated to the speed of the game. It’s only a matter of time until Trickett puts all the pieces together and gives Dana Holgorsen that explosive air raid offense he’s lacked since Geno Smith left town.
But even Trickett is not without fault. The Mountaineers offense hasn’t been too explosive lately. That’s not to say it’s been bad, but the over the top big plays through the air assault hasn’t been there through two weeks. Trickett is a smart, heady QB, but he’s coming off shoulder surgery. While he’s been able to make all the throws required, Geno Smith he is not. His deep balls don’t have a ton of zip on them. There’s also the question of whether or not he’ll have the weapons to really guide this offense to newer heights. Wideout Kevin White has been a surprise early (while not reaching the end zone), but is it sustainable? Freshman QB William Crest was brought in for red zone possessions against Towson and looked good. Is he going to replace Trickett?
Meanwhile, C.J. Brown has provided his typical early season statistics after leading Maryland to their first bowl appearance since 2010 last year. Three rushing touchdowns, three passing touchdowns; Brown is as dual-threat as ever. He’s looked faster than before, stronger on his feet than last year, and knows this offense in and out.
But Brown has struggled with both accuracy and, more recently, turnover issues. Despite Maryland’s plethora of talented receivers, the Terps offense looked pedestrian against South Florida last week thanks to six turnovers (three of which were attributed to Brown). This was supposed to look like the West Virginia Air Raid O during the Austin-Bailey days, not the Perry Hills’ Terps of 2012. Coach Edsall is stressing that Brown needs to “have fun” and “settle down out there.” These aren’t necessarily questions you want in week two.
The Terps are looking for Brown to be the leader of this offense on the field. He’s got all the weapons he needs to succeed, all his health, and a secure hold on the starting position. The Terps want Brown and his dual-threat playmaking ability to give this offense an identity it should have by now. There’s no denying that when Brown is good, he makes this offense very good. Upsetting Virginia Tech on the road was not a fluke, and neither were the 100-yard rushing games he has proven capable of. This offense ranks as one of the more explosive (and yes we’re using that word a lot) offenses nationally — right up there with the Oregon Ducks.
Both QBs run two variations of the spread offense, but only one is going to prevail here. Will Trickett be able to start airing it out over Maryland’s defense, or will it be the other way around with Brown? Your guess is as good as theirs at this point, which seems odd to say for two redshirt senior quarterbacks.