The season-ending knee injuries of not one but two quarterbacks have left Maryland so depleted that it is deciding between two inexperienced players to be the new starter and must convert a freshman linebacker or tight end to be third string.
The latest injury — a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered by freshman Perry Hills in Saturday's loss to North Carolina State — leaves Maryland to choose between two very different sorts of quarterbacks: Caleb Rowe and Devin Burns.
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Rowe, a true freshman, is a redhead with a choir-boy face whose teammates describe him as a "gunslinger" because of the way he whips the ball around while directing two-minute drills in practice. Coaches had enough faith in him that they asked him to make his college debut in the final minutes of a two-point game against the Wolfpack.
"During the week, we do lot of two-minute situations, [so] it wasn't really a surprise," Rowe said. "They were telling me on the headset to be ready to go in."
He was 2-for-2 for 50 yards and had Maryland positioned for a game-winning, 33-yard field goal. But freshman Brad Craddock's attempt slammed off the left upright.
"I think he showed just a little glimpse of what he can do on Saturday," said Wade Cooper, Rowe's former coach at Blue Ridge High School in Greer, S.C. "This kid's a player now. He's got great touch on the ball."
Rowe was recruited by Maryland running backs coach Andre Powell, a former Clemson assistant.
Rowe had attended Clemson's football camp while he matured. "I think [Rowe and his family] were puzzled why Clemson didn't offer him early on, especially after he performed well at their camp," Cooper said. "I think [the Tigers] will regret it. They may regret it Nov. 10" when Maryland plays Clemson.
When he runs the two-minute drills in practice, Rowe plays with the backups against the first-team defense.
"Caleb's won more two-minute drills against the starting defense than any other quarterback," said defensive lineman A.J. Francis. "Caleb's biggest positive can sometimes be his biggest negative — he's a gunslinger. But he's going to make a lot of plays that other guys won't make."
Wide receiver Stefon Diggs said Rowe can make "kind of like NFL throws that you don't see too often. He can throw the good corner route."
Burns, a redshirt sophomore who entered Saturday's game after Hills was carted off, led the Terps on three straight scoring drives. The former wide receiver rushed 12 times for 50 yards and a touchdown.
"I think it helped that maybe N.C. State wasn't as prepared for a running quarterback to be in there," offensive lineman Mike Madaras said.
Burns describes himself as "laid-back," and Madaras said he was struck by the quarterback's demeanor when he entered the game.
"He was just smiling, happy to be there," the lineman said.
The team has no third-string quarterback. It will choose between a freshman tight end (Brian McMahon) and a converted linebacker (Shawn Petty). Both played quarterback in high school — McMahon at Atholton and Petty at Eleanor Roosevelt in Greenbelt.
When he opened the season, Hills was the first true freshman to start at the position for Maryland since Latrez Harrison in 1999. He started all seven games this season, and coaches said he was getting increasingly acclimated to the college game.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall said he expects to "have a really good idea" by the end of Thursday's practice who will start at quarterback after assessing the players' practice performances and making sure they are injury-free. But the decision may not be announced until game time.
Last season, Edsall often used two quarterbacks — Danny O'Brien and C.J. Brown — in games. Brown was this season's presumptive starter until suffering a torn ACL in a non-contact drill during August camp.
It wasn't long ago that Maryland quarterbacks could expect to spend their freshman seasons on the sidelines wearing headsets and waiting a year or more to get their turn to play.
Brown and O'Brien both redshirted their freshman seasons. The original plan was to redshirt Rowe to allow him a season to develop.
But this season, redshirting quarterbacks is a luxury that the Terps can no longer afford.
"Ideally, yes I would have liked to redshirt [Rowe]," Edsall said. "We had made the decision to go with Devin as No. 2 [behind Hills] and Caleb at No. 3. [But] I told him he had to be ready and be prepared because he hasn't gotten many reps."