Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and producer-editor Jonas Shaffer weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland sports.
How much improved is Maryland’s offense with C.J. Brown running it?
Don Markus: While a true picture of where the Terps will be offensively this season might not be apparent until the competition gets a little tougher, the first impression of Brown’s return to health and Maryland’s starting lineup has been very positive. Going into Saturday’s game at Connecticut, Brown leads the ACC in passing and is fourth in the country in passing efficiency.
Easing into the schedule has certainly helped Brown and the 2-0 Terps get off to the kind of start they envisioned. That Brown went 20 of 23 for 281 yards passing and threw for three touchdowns while rushing 11 times for 118 yards and two more scores against Florida International in his first game in more than a year was sensational, regardless of the opponent.
The numbers came down last week as Old Dominion was trying to force the Terps into more of a running game, but 14 of 22 for 275 yards and two TDs passing was still respectable. Those are more of what I expect from Brown because of the big-play capabilities of his receivers, particularly sophomore Stefon Diggs and junior transfer Deon Long, as well as his own inconsistencies as a passer.
What’s been impressive so far about Brown is his improved accuracy. What I remember from Brown’s sophomore year in 2011 was his ability to make plays with his feet, but rarely with his arm. Having receivers like Diggs and Long could do for Brown what it now appears Torrey Smith did for Danny O’Brien in 2010 -- making an average quarterback look way above average.
I still don’t know if Brown has the kind of arm O’Brien demonstrated at times, or even what backup Caleb Rowe has shown in practice and in a short stint as one of four Maryland quarterbacks to play last season. (Three if you don’t really consider Shawn Petty, the linebacker who finished the year at quarterback.)
But Mike Locksley has done a great job matching Brown’s talents with those around him and the plays being called for them. Obviously, he’s still going to have to be able to use his feet to show what former Maryland coach Bobby Ross used to call “evadeability.” While the knee operation appears to have slowed Brown by a step, he is still faster than most college quarterbacks.
The key to Maryland’s offense might ultimately not be Brown or Diggs or a good young group of tailbacks Randy Edsall now has at his disposal. It could come down to what appears, on paper at least, to be a very average (or more realistically a below average) offensive line, which is currently starting a walk-on. Protecting Brown and opening holes for Brandon Ross is a huge part of Maryland’s success.
Yet Brown, because of his leadership, could become to this year’s Maryland team what a Shaun Hill was in Ralph Friedgen’s first year and what Scott McBrien was later on -- a playmaker with limitations. Both Hill and McBrien had their share of playmakers, as Brown certainly has with Diggs, Long and Ross, and they flourished in a system that seemed to fit their talents.
I expect Brown and the offense to have another big game Saturday at Connecticut, considering what Towson and fifth-year senior quarterback Peter Athens (and Terrance West) did a couple of weeks ago. West Virginia will certainly be a bigger test in Baltimore on Sept. 21, but the Mountaineers seem to be rebuilding on both sides of the ball based on their performance last week against Oklahoma.
Give Brown some time to get his legs under him before making a final determination. As talented as Diggs is and Long appears to be, it takes time to get in sync with a new quarterback, which is essentially what Brown is after a year off. But I think first impressions have been mostly positive, and very promising.
What kind of greeting do you expect Terps coach Randy Edsall will receive when he returns to Connecticut on Saturday?
Jeff Barker: I've been using the phrase, "a smattering of boos," to describe the expected response.
Some UConn fans don't like that Edsall didn't tell his players he was taking another job before they heard it elsewhere.
Edsall said last year that he regrets the way his departure unfolded, but that circumstances didn't allow him to tell his players first. UConn was on its way back from the Fiesta Bowl when word got out.
There will surely be some applause, too. Edsall was the guy who took the Huskies from Division I-AA to the Football Bowl Subdivision and to a big-time bowl. He was there for 12 seasons. That's a long time. It's not like he was Lane Kiffin-esque, leaving a job after about 20 minutes, the way Kiffin left Tennessee.
If UConn plays poorly, it may be coach Paul Pasqualoni who is feeling the fans' ire. The Huskies began the season by losing to Towson, a Football Championship Subdivision school, albeit a very good one. The Huskies will not have played for 16 days, so there may be some pent-up fan frustration.
Which uncommitted football prospect’s recruitment is worth watching this fall?
Jonas Shaffer: Courtesy of InsideMDSports.com, we introduced you to Dwight Morrow (N.J.) athlete Juwann Winfree two weeks ago. The four-star recruit said after visiting the campus this fall that the Terps were “safe” from any cuts to his list of schools.
But in recruiting, safety and comfort are two entirely different feelings. Since late July, as 247Sports’ wondrous “Crystal Ball Predictions” timeline shows, Pitt had been the heavy favorite to land Winfree. From July 23 to Aug. 24, seven separate recruiting analysts had the Panthers as the front-runners.
That has changed as of late. Of the latest four predictions, three had the Terps in the lead for Winfree. The 6-foot-2, 180-pounder took an official visit to Georgia last weekend and is set to take his next official visit with Maryland. The Star-Ledger’s No. 9 player in New Jersey reportedly will check out the Terps-West Virginia game at M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 21 before heading to Pitt the weekend after.
Led by assistants Keith Dudzinski and Lee Hull, Maryland is recruiting Winfree as a wide receiver. During Winfree’s August visit, Hull told him that “they only want to take one receiver in this class and that I should be that guy. He said that I fit in well with their offense and if Deon [Long] has a great season or two and goes into the draft, that could be an early spot for me."
Winfree’s also a fan of Stefon Diggs. Whether he’ll join him in College Park next season could be resolved as soon as a matter of weeks.