Cameron Chism wore a puzzled look. It was Saturday's first quarter, and Maryland's senior cornerback had trailed a West Virginia receiver to the end zone as the ball floated harmlessly away.
Then Chism saw the flag. "The ref may have said I cut him off," Chism said later. As the 15-yard penalty was assessed — the Mountaineers scored a touchdown two plays later — Chism walked haltingly toward the sideline and twice extended his arms with his palms up in a questioning gesture.
Then Chism did what all successful cornerbacks must do — he remembered how to forget. Victimized early, Chism and his teammates rebounded to hold West Virginia to three fourth-quarter points before falling, 37-31.
Throughout his career, Chism, who has started a team-high 25 straight games, has had a propensity for injecting himself into memorable plays. His football survival has depended on having a short memory — an almost Zen-like ability to live in the moment — so as not to allow his many highs or occasional lows to linger into the next snap.
In the season-opening victory over Miami, Chism committed a costly holding penalty on a third-and-17 pass that contributed to the Hurricanes' briefly taking a fourth-quarter lead. He soon redeemed himself by stepping in front of a sideline throw and returning the interception 54 yards for the clinching score in Maryland's 32-24 win.
But even in that glorious moment — Chism was lifted into the air by teammates in the end zone — there was a down note. Maryland coach Randy Edsall said he had been shouting for Chism to fall down. With less than a minute left, Edsall said, the game would have been over if Chism had taken a knee.
Said Chism: "I didn't hear him. I probably should have gone down."
Chism's career has been all about rebounding. He and then-roommate Kenny Tate played immediately as freshmen after Maryland signed Chism out of Bishop McNamara High in Prince George's County.
Chism had been recruited not only by Maryland but by Edsall — then the Connecticut coach — who joked this summer that he had to switch jobs in order to finally be able to coach Chism.
As a sophomore in 2009, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Chism replaced injured senior captain Nolan Carroll, now with the Miami Dolphins. He made two interceptions in his first career start — a 32-31 loss to Middle Tennessee State — but surrendered a late, 35-yard pass completion during which he said he was slowed by hamstring cramps.
Three games later, Chism struggled against Wake Forest, slipping on one play — a 33-yard completion — and getting beaten on another.
But something clicked on for Chism after that 42-32 defeat.
"I remember that I struggled a little," Chism said Wednesday before Maryland (1-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) practiced for Saturday's game against Temple (2-1, 1-0 Mid-American Conference). "But you've got to get beat a couple times to learn that the world is not over. That takes time, especially for a young corner."
Said Chism, who has good hands: "The hardest part of being a corner is getting into position to make the play. When the ball gets there, that's the easy part."
Chism said it's not enough to forget the bad plays. Cornerbacks need to forget the good ones, too, so they're not tempted to go for interceptions on passes that should simply be knocked down. "Sometimes we try to do a little more than we should do," he said.
Last season, Chism had 70 tackles and eight pass breakups. Entering the season, coaches hoped he would be considered for all-conference honors at the end of the year.
In his down moments, Chism has enjoyed the support of his older brother, Carl — who played safety for Texas Southern — and of Maryland's close fraternity of defensive backs.
Chism "is definitely a leader in the secondary," said fellow cornerback Dexter McDougle, a redshirt sophomore.
"He's had a lot of big plays for us. He had a couple bad penalties last game [against West Virginia] that we thought were kind of iffy," McDougle said. "I guess the referees, we felt, weren't respecting us playing the ball, too, as well as the receiver playing the ball. They were just good defensive plays that we feel like we should have got."
Said McDougle: "As a DB, you know just have to look to the next play."
Note: Edsall announced via Twitter on Wednesday that Maryland will wear gold jerseys, black pants and black helmets Saturday against Temple.