COLLEGE PARK — There's no way to measure mental toughness when high school football players are being recruited, no stopwatch to put to a kid to see how long it takes for him to get back into a game when he has been knocked out. If there was, Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown might have been a five-star prospect in high school, not a three-star one.
There's also no tangible way to figure out how big a win Maryland's 38-31 victory over Iowa on Saturday at Byrd Stadium will be for another couple of months, at least not before the Terps get through the four-game gauntlet they now face in their inaugural Big Ten Conference season.
Accustomed to coming back from injuries and inconsistencies throughout a six-year college football career filled with plenty of each, Brown was not the only Maryland player to show resilience in what could be a season-defining game for the Terps, now 5-2. He was clearly their most important.
Brown didn’t let his own mistake — a first-play interception that set up Iowa’s first touchdown — or wide receiver Marcus Leak's drop of a potential 50-yard touchdown on one of the best passes Brown has thrown as a Terp discourage him.
"Anytime you start the game with a play like [the interception], it's tough, but to be able to come back and make the throws that I needed to do and put our team in a position to win, I think it gave them confidence that I wasn't going in the tank," Brown said after the game.
Nor did the Terps allow Iowa's 14-0 lead late in the first quarter to put a damper on homecoming. Maryland might have needed touchdowns by its two biggest playmakers, wide receiver Stefon Diggs and cornerback Will Likely, to build a 17-point cushion, but the Terps fed off Brown's toughness and leadership in the win.
Brown couldn't quite finish the job last month at home against West Virginia after being knocked out of the game late in the first half, but he was able to do it against Iowa. A player who received a medical-hardship waiver from the NCAA after suffering a season-ending injury as a sophomore, Brown was again forced from of the game Saturday after what appeared to be a late hit to the back by a Hawkeyes defender.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall believes his quarterback's two most noticeable qualities rub off on Brown's teammates.
"Today, C.J. played the way he needs to play," Edsall said. "For him to be the most effective that he can be, and for us to be who we want to be offensively, he never lost confidence when we got down 14-0. It's unfortunate Marcus dropped that one [pass].
"I think C.J. understands that how he handles himself and how he presents himself to the other guys on the team, they're going to feed off of that. When you see a guy take a shot that he took, and then he gets back in there, if you can't go out there and play hard and do a little bit more, man, you don't have a lot of respect for a guy like that. He's a tough cookie."
Not that Brown deserves all the credit for one of Maryland's most impressive wins since Edsall took over, the first time the Terps have come back from a 14-0 deficit since a late-season victory over North Carolina State in 2010.
Credit reserve quarterback Perry Hills for building on a 17-14 lead while playing for the first time in more than two years — he protected the ball deep in Maryland territory on his first possession — and for hitting Diggs on consecutive plays, the second a screen pass that Diggs turned into a 53-yard touchdown.
Credit a Terps defense for not losing its aggressiveness even after picking up seemingly where it left off two weeks ago against Ohio State, when the Terps were punished by a bigger, stronger and faster Buckeyes line. Nose tackle Darius Kilgo summed things up well after a productive afternoon in which he had six tackles, including a sack, and recovered a fumble.
Asked why the Iowa game didn't turn out to be a repeat of the Ohio State game when it was headed in that direction early on, Kilgo said: "We never count ourselves out of a game. The only thing we can do is come back and keep fighting. If we keep coming back and fighting, I think we'll be pretty good."
One game shy of becoming bowl-eligible for the second straight year, the Terps now face one of the most daunting stretches of Edsall's coaching career. It begins Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium against Wisconsin, continues at Penn State, returns home for a game against Michigan State and ends at Michigan.
The Nittany Lions are not as good as they were last year, and the Wolverines can be downright terrible, but silencing 100,000 in Happy Valley and at The Big House will be more challenging than quieting the tailgaters at Indiana or the basketball-first fans at the Carrier Dome.
"It was a huge win," said the normally matter-of-fact Edsall.
Compared with Edsall's first three teams, these Terps seem to be more resilient, and have the talent to back it up.
"It's a group that understands that things will go wrong in a game, that it's not going to always be pretty," Edsall said. "But what you have to do is you have to keep battling each and every play. That's what they do. We talk about it all the time. We preach it.
"We talk about finishing. We talk about playing every play like it's the last play you're going to play. It seems that the message has been heard, the message has been grasped, and they're going out and living up to those messages that are being talked about on a daily basis."
Especially for a former three-star quarterback whose toughness and leadership are finally quantifiable.