COLLEGE PARK — At some point from the time he arrived at Maryland in summer 2012 to when he made his first career start in late October of that year, Caleb Rowe was labeled as a "gunslinger." The term is a double-edged sword, one that conjures up images of free-flowing backyard football improvisation mixed with headache-inducing mistakes. Perhaps the greatest gunslinger of them all, Green Bay Packers legend Brett Favre retired as the NFL's leader in both touchdown passes and interceptions.
The term has followed Rowe through his first three years, 15 appearances and three starts in College Park with statistics — 12 touchdowns, 12 interceptions — that paint a picture of an inconsistent passer with a big arm that sometimes struggles with decision-making.
When he starts Saturday against South Florida, Rowe will be looking to boost Maryland's downfield passing game with his arm strength while also making solid decisions and protecting the ball as the Terps try to avoid back-to-back regular season losses for the first time since 2013.
"I was labeled that early in my career," Rowe said Wednesday. "I just got to go out and play my game within the offense. I'm feeling very comfortable with this week's game plan and I'm ready to go."
When Rowe relieved Perry Hills in the fourth quarter of last week's 48-27 loss to Bowling Green, he threw two interceptions in three passes. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said the staff had talked to Rowe about not trying to do too much with the Terps trailing late. They needed the redshirt junior to just protect the ball and give Maryland a chance to begin a comeback.
The temptation is there to go for the big play after every snap, but the Terps want Rowe to make the smart play and get the ball to the team's playmakers.
"Caleb is a guy that throws the ball really well," Locksley said Wednesday. "Kind of a gunslinger mentality, which as a quarterback coach, I'm not a big fan of. I want [him] to make good decisions. The last few weeks in practice, I've seen him perform better in the passing game and make the decisions that I want to see made at the position."
The Maryland offense will feature a new look Saturday with Rowe under center and young wide receivers Taivon Jacobs and D.J. Moore taking on more significant roles alongside Levern Jacobs.
But no matter how speedy the wide receivers are or strong Rowe's arm is, the onus falls on the Landrum, S.C., native to make the right decision.
Maryland's loss to Bowling Green was the fourth time in Rowe's career that he threw multiple interceptions in a game. He threw three in his first career start at Boston College on Oct. 27, 2012, two in his last start against Clemson on Oct. 26, 2013 and three against Ohio State in relief of C.J. Brown on Oct. 4, 2014.
Some of the Terps have seen an improvement in Rowe's decision making, though. And some realize that there are more factors at play than simply Rowe throwing the ball.
"He definitely picks his targets now, which in turn, we have to give him time to pick his targets," right tackle Ryan Doyle said. "So this week, there's going to be a lot of focus on making sure the protection's solid and making it solid for as long as it needs to be. If he picks his targets and he gets the ball he wants, he'll send it down the field, and we'll have a touchdown pretty quick."
Maybe Rowe will shed the gunslinger label against South Florida on Saturday. Or maybe that mentality will bring a new successful dimension to the Terps.
"Against Bowling Green, it was kind of iffy," Taivon Jacobs said. "You didn't really get to see him how you wanted to because we only had like five minutes left in the game. You couldn't really see his full potential, so I feel like people are going to be shocked when he comes in the game this week. He's going to shock a lot of people."
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