Being QB1 is never easy. When your team wins, it’s because they’ve got the right man for the job under center and everything is mostly peachy. When your team loses, though, it’s your team and therefore your fault. The burden is heavy, and the fan base and critics are unsympathetic at best that these are actual people quarterbacking and not mechanical, flawless, robots.
C.J. Brown is QB1 right now, and even though Maryland is 2-1, he’s been under a powerful, incendiary microscope targeted directly at him through three weeks because of the lack of explosiveness from the offense. The general consensus after looking at the Terps offensive weapons this season was that this group would be a high flying, pass-oriented attack centered around Brown using his legs to bait defenses into stuffing up the run and his arm to make opponents pay for cheating. For the most part that hasn’t happened, and it’s led to some questioning as to whether or not Brown is the guy capable of leading this offense. Three games in.
Consider for a moment that fans of a 2-1 team want an entire offseason’s worth of planning by the coaching staff to be scrapped in favor of an entirely new offensive system predicated on the pass under a QB with less than half a season’s worth of snaps. A system that, frankly, hasn’t been utilized by either Mike Locksley or Randy Edsall during their respective careers. A 2-1 team. In favor of a sixth year quarterback and someone who has won the starting job 4 times during his career and never lost it as a result of play, but of injury.
The suggestion on paper is verging on the point of absurdity, and yet it is absolutely worth some attention. The offense is converting under 45% of their third downs, their deadliest weapon isn’t setting the world on fire, and the QB spot has been very shaky as a passing attack through three games. Logic would suggest that before a very rough slate of games arrives, the Terps would be best using an offensive system that works as opposed to one that isn’t really. And I get it.
But it’s not going to happen. Barring an injury, there’s just no way it’s going to happen this year.
Maryland’s offense, much like the Locksley – Juice Williams offense at Illinois a half decade ago, is a spread offense; more specifically, it’s a spread offense predicated on the zone read. The entirety of the Terrapins offense revolves around that identity: their plays are zone read options, their personnel is for a run-based zone read offense, their offensive line’s blocking schemes are based on a zone read offense, and most importantly their quarterback is the prototypical read option quarterback.
1.) The coaching staff is not going to ask the offensive line to completely change up their strategy three games in.
There’s been some pretty decent evidence that the offensive line isn’t performing up to snuff, and some of that is true. There are certain instances where Maryland’s tackles aren’t exactly performing the way that they should. C.J. Brown took some nasty hits last week in the pocket because of a few missed assignments, and in a traditional blocking scheme, the criticism would be 100% warranted.
But Maryland doesn’t run a traditional blocking scheme because the read option is entirely based on zone blocking. If you don’t understand the basic tenets of zone blocking, then you’ll never understand why plays that appear completely blown up aren’t all on the O-line. Locksley even went out of his way to say that the first sack of the game was on the QB missing a blitzer.
Maryland’s offensive linemen are far from perfect, but at times when it seems like teams get a wide open blitz on Brown, it’s intentional to create a double-team on the play side. That’s basic inside zone read stuff, which is what Maryland runs. They did a very decent job on recognizing double-teams play side on the QB option, and when your QB gains 161 yards on the ground in a zone read it means it worked.
The offensive line is actually getting the blocking scheme little-by-little. And even if they aren’t right now, would any coach suggest that Maryland, who wants to bring in light footed linemen (a requisite in the zone read), try to line up against gigantic Big Ten linemen in a more traditional offense under Caleb Rowe? One that they haven’t really dedicated a ton of time to?
2.) Brown is already throwing a decent amount for this offense, but a passing spread offense is not what Maryland is designed to run
I’m not sure why there is such a disconnect with what the fans want for the Terps offense and what they actually are and always have been. The Terps are running very nearly the exact same offense that Illinois ran, wherein the QB is going to account for around 60% or more of the offense. Last year, those same numbers I predicted were almost spot on; Brown accounted for ~65% of Maryland’s offense during his healthy stretches.
I also stressed that this offense was not at all friendly to most of the wideout positions, even when you have an NFL caliber receiver like Arrelious Benn and a running back like Rashard Mendenhall at your disposal (which Locksley did at Illinois). That wasn’t a mistake; it’s by design. The offense is designed to run inside ZR, inside ZR, inside ZR, outside ZR, over and over again until the defense gets burnt on pass plays. You need QB like Brown to do this, to set up the big plays to Stefon Diggs, Marcus Leak, and Malcolm Culmer. Brown’s already in the top 50 nationally in passing attempts, and that’s plenty.
If anything, you could argue Maryland should run it a little more. Maybe add in some jet sweeps for Diggs and Veii. They used some creative shovel-screens to get the running backs involved, and while those are considered passing yards they are still essentially runs. If you want Brown to start running empty backfield, 5 wide receiver sets a la West Virginia in 2012, you’re off your rocker.
West Virginia had an NFL QB on their roster in one of the highest scoring offenses in recent memory at 39.5 points per game. They had one of the best all-purpose receivers to ever play the game, a very good running back, and another NFL caliber receiver beside them. Maryland may have the wide receivers to be that team, they’re not interested in becoming that team. Not that it’s their fault; that was a woefully incomplete squad with no defense that won seven games.
Brown slinging the ball around the field isn’t going to happen, like it or not. That’s not Edsall ball. Maryland will vary the run like an Edsall-Locksley team tends to do. It’s going to be run-run-run-pass. And history should tell you that. Right now the Terps have tons of toys, but not everyone gets to play. I don’t doubt that maybe Caleb Rowe could really get this offense humming in the passing game, but that’s not the game plan.
3.) Brown isn’t playing nearly badly enough to merit the Terps pulling him
Putting in Rowe would mean the coaching staff is admitting that the offense under Brown has no idea what they’re doing and a desperate change is needed. Some perspective will show you that Maryland just lost a game by three lousy points, not 40. Teams change quarterbacks when the season is doomed otherwise. The Terps have won two of their last three games and they’re on pace for eight wins.
Brown is fourth nationally in fumbles, tied for 29th in interceptions, and the offense under him isn’t converting third downs. Those are his biggest crimes three games into the season. Maryland’s still scoring a lot of points, and it’s not a complete dumpster fire. Bringing in Rowe could open up an entirely different can of worms to go along with the turnover problem.
There’s the game plan adjustments, the new playbook, the chemistry issues, all of which may be less solvable than failing to hold onto the ball and throwing a few picks. Edsall very likely wants to go with what he knows, and why wouldn’t he?
It’s not that Caleb Rowe isn’t a passable quarterback, it’s just not the time to scrap an entire offense in favor of him. Brown has earned himself way more time than that.