COLLEGE PARK — Maryland quarterback Caleb Rowe's second career start began under circumstances similar to his first as a freshman last season. It nearly ended with similar heartbreak for the 6-foot-3, 210-pound sophomore.
A year ago, after taking over for fellow freshman Perry Hills, Rowe saw his own season cut short with the same anterior cruciate ligament tear that had ended Hills' and C.J. Brown's years. It came in a three-point defeat to Boston College.
With Brown ruled out because of a concussion suffered in last week's shellacking at Florida State, Rowe came out of Byrd Stadium with his knee healthy seemingly intact and his team victorious, surviving with a 27-26 win over Virginina at Byrd Stadium.
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A 12-yard touchdown pass from Rowe to senior tight end Dave Stinebaugh (Perry Hall) gave the Terps the lead with 5:14 left. Rowe, who finished 18-for-34 for 332 yards, then had to sweat out the Cavaliers' missed 42-yard field goal in the closing seconds.
The touchdown pass — a low bullet to a sliding Stinebaugh —– followed a 47-yard heave from Rowe to junior wide receiver Deon Long to the Virginia 13 on third-and-21. On the previous play, Rowe had made an ill-advised and off-target pitch to running back Brandon Ross that resulted in an 11-yard loss.
That sequence seemed to sum up the young quarterback's inconsistent day.
Rowe was more lucky than good in the first half. Of his 218 yards passing, 79 of them came on a screen pass to sophomore tailback Brandon Ross, 39 on a pass deflected into the hands of Stefon Diggs and 17 more on a pass that went through a defender's hands to Levern Jacobs.
Perhaps Rowe's most surprising play came late in the third quarter. Facing a third-and-13 at the Virginia 48, Rowe went back to pass, but took off after he couldn't find any open receivers. Not known for his running ability, Rowe gained 19 yards to keep the drive going. He found Diggs for a 21-yard gain on the next play, and Brad Craddock finished the drive with a 32-yard field goal.
But Rowe also showed his inexperience at times, holding the ball and taking a bad sack late in the first half, turning a second-and-10 at the Virginia 44 into a third-and-23. On Maryland's first possession of the second half, Rowe tried to find Diggs in triple coverage and threw well behind him on a third-and-2 from the Virginia 17. He overthrew a streaking Jacobs on the next possession.
Rowe's inability to hit open receivers in the red zone in the second half might have been the difference between Maryland blowing out the Cavaliers and narrowly winning. Rowe will likely go back to his backup role next Saturday at Wake Forest, if Brown is deemed healthy enough to play. Brown throwing before the Virginia game was a sign of progression on the series of tests given to players with concussions.
Robinson out 3-4 weeks
Linebacker Matt Robinson (Atholton) is expected to miss three to four weeks with a rotator cuff injury, coach Randy Edsall said after the game.
Robinson was injured against Florida State last Saturday and did not play against Virginia.
Robinson, a converted safety who has missed parts portions of the past two seasons, was tied for the team lead in tackles (31) entering Saturday and had 3.5 tackles for losses. Alex Twine replaced him and had nine tackles.
A lack of sacks
The Terps, who came into the game third in the Football Bowl Subdivision in sacks (18), had trouble getting to Virginia quarterback David Watford. The Cavaliers countered Maryland's hard-charging defensive line by having Watford roll out and calling for quick-hitting passes on three-step drops. Junior tight end Jake McGee was the main beneficiary, finishing with eight catches for 114 yards and a touchdown.
“We saw the same thing on film: The quarterback was doing a great job of getting the ball out quick,” junior nose tackle Darius Kilgo said. “He's aware that we can get pressure in the backfield. He did a great job of getting the ball out and getting small passes that hurt us. In the end it paid off.”
It didn't help that Maryland lost its second-leading pass rusher, junior linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil (Towson High), to an undisclosed injury in the first quarter.
“He was missed a lot,” junior linebacker L.A. Goree said. “We expect the next man to come in and get just as much pressure as Cudjoe. We have a couple of young guys who are able to come in and fill the shoes of guys who are starting.”
Jennings shows up late
After not catching a pass in last week's 48-27 loss to Ball State, Virginia wide receiver Darius Jennings did not have a catch until late in Saturday's game. The former Gilman star's 21-yard reception at the Maryland 43 came with a little over a minute left, but it went for naught when Alec Vozenilek missed wide right with nine seconds left.
After catching seven passes for 65 yards and a touchdown in a season-opening win over Brigham Young, Jennings had only seven catches for 45 yards until making the fourth-quarter catch. Jennings was barely on the field after the first quarter, except to return kicks and punts.
Longtime Maryland play-by-play announcer Johnny Holliday was honored at halftime Saturday, commemorating his 35th season covering Terps football and basketball. Holliday's career at Maryland, which began after a successful disc jockey career in San Francisco and New York, was recently celebrated at a press conference before football coach Randy Edsall's weekly session with the media.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Barker contributed to this article.