TALLAHASSEE, FLA. — This could not have been the way Maryland envisioned Saturday's game unfolding -- with its new quarterback dazed by a head-high tackle and the former starter trying to resurrect his team in a season that has now seen the Terps lose five of their past six contests.
Florida State's cavernous Doak Campbell Stadium has never been a place for Maryland to seek sanctuary. It proved unfriendly again as the Seminoles knocked quarterback C.J. Brown from the game in the third quarter and beat the Terps, 41-16. It was Florida State's 11th straight win over Maryland here.
Maryland has lost three straight to drop to 2-5 (1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Its only win since opening night came against Towson, a Football Championship Subdivision team.
"We are just not doing enough positive things," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said after the Terps gave up 482 yards one week after surrendering 576 yards in a loss to Clemson. "We just don't match up with the speed and athleticism of Clemson and Florida State. That's what we are going to have to do from a recruiting standpoint," said Edsall, hired from Connecticut in January.
Edsall sounded determined, almost defiant, about the ultimate course of his program. "We can win, and we're going to win. I have no doubt about that. It's going to get done," he said.
As in earlier losses to Temple, Georgia Tech and West Virginia, Maryland quickly trailed. After Florida State took a 24-3 lead, the crowd of an announced 72,697 on a cloudless, 70-degree day must have imagined the contest was over. The Terps -- behind former starting quarterback Danny O'Brien (9-for-18, 180 yards, one passing touchdown and one running) -- closed to 24-10, but that was as close as they came in the second half.
The Seminoles (4-3, 2-) entered the game as the ACC's leader in sacks per game. It showed. Florida State sacked Brown, making his second career start, four times in rolling to a two-touchdown lead.
Maryland used short passes and screens to try to counter the pass rush. The mobile Brown occasionally rolled out on what appeared to be run options. When he remained in the pocket, he was frequently under pressure.
With the Terps trailing 17-3, Brown was tackled high by Florida State linebacker Nigel Bradham, who was assessed a personal foul. Brown bent over, then sat on the field with 10:59 left in the third quarter. He walked off without assistance.
"I took a hit to the head, and they wanted to check me out. Everything was fine. I could have gone back in, and Coach made his decision," Brown said. "Danny was doing well, so they kept him in."
O'Brien, who had started 15 straight games before being replaced by Brown last week, jogged onto the field. O'Brien, last season's ACC Rookie of the Year, missed on two deep throws, then hit Quintin McCree (career-high nine catches, 177 yards) on third-and-15 for a first down.
Maryland ended the series with a punt. But on his second possession, O'Brien hit McCree for a 69-yard completion before running for a 5-yard touchdown to cut the margin to 24-10 with 3:31 left in the third quarter.
O'Brien's efforts -- he led Maryland's only two touchdown drives -- leave Edsall with a choice between the mobile Brown or the more experienced O'Brien for next week's game against Boston College at Byrd Stadium. Edsall said he anticipated a game-time decision.
"It felt good to get out there and throw," O'Brien said. "It felt good to get hit, honestly. I haven't been hit in awhile. It got me into the flow of the game."
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said of O'Brien: "When he's in the game and the ball is in his hands, I'm going to tell you, anything can happen."
Maryland was again depleted by injuries, particularly on defense. It was telling that only two of Maryland's captains played. Linebacker Kenny Tate, who has an apparent leg injury, came out for the opening coin toss without pads. Another captain, offensive lineman Andrew Gonnella, was advised by doctors not to travel after sustaining a season-ending knee injury.
The Seminoles started quickly, driving 62 yards to take a 7-0 lead on their opening possession. Quarterback E.J. Manuel (18-for-26, 264 yards, one touchdown pass, one interception) dropped back, then ran 7 yards up the middle for a touchdown with 12:12 left in the first quarter. Manuel hit a wide-open Kenny Shaw on a 26-yard catch and run, capping a 90-yard drive and upping the lead to 14-0 with 4:45 remaining in the first quarter.
"Those were two big pivotal drives, and it helped us out a lot," Manuel said.
Maryland could never rebound after that.
"It's disappointing, flat out," O'Brien said. "We've underachieved this year, and we know that. We're in them [the recent games]. It's just a matter of finishing."