COLLEGE PARK -- After struggling through what he called "unacceptable" performances in the first two games of the season, Maryland football quarterback C.J. Brown declared: "As I go, the offense will go, I understand that."
Said last Tuesday without a hint of bravado, it's about as close to a boast the sixth-year graduate student can muster. Considering the way things started out for Brown and the Terps on Saturday, that statement could have bitten him.
But it's also the truth, which, depending on how you look at Brown's performance in a 40-37 defeat to West Virginia (2-1) at soggy Byrd Stadium, is either a good or bad sign for the Terps (2-1) this season.
Brown had his best game of the season and one of his most productive as a Terp. He also missed an easy touchdown pass that could have swung the momentum in Maryland's favor early in the game and came up a yard short on a crucial play late in the game.
Asked whether he will go home thinking about his 402 yards of offense — including a 75-yard touchdown run and 77-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Stefon Diggs, both career highs for Brown — or about the overthrown pass to a wide-open Malcolm Culmer in the first quarter with the Terps down only 7-0, Brown was typically blunt.
"That one's going to haunt me," said Brown, who missed Culmer by at least 5 yards, with the ball sailing over the head of the 5-foot-11 sophomore receiver and out of bounds. "I wish we could have that one back."
Brown also second-guessed himself for his 9-yard run on a second-and-10 play from Maryland's 27-yard line with the score tied at 37 late in the fourth quarter. Though he appeared to get the first down, the official's spot left the Terps with a third-and-1. Fullback Kenny Goins (Gilman) was stuffed for a 5-yard loss on third down, Maryland punted, and West Virginia marched downfield for the game-winning field goal.
"I thought I had it," Brown said of his final run. He finished with 161 yards in the game, one shy of a school rushing record he set as a sophomore in 2011 against Clemson. "Obviously, that's another one that sticks [in my mind]. That gave them the ball back. I could have got that extra yard, instead of diving headfirst, I should have lowered my shoulder and got the extra yard."
Brown showed his characteristic resilience. Overcoming an early interception on a tipped pass and the overthrow to Culmer, he hit Diggs in stride for the long score, which started Maryland's ill-fated comeback. .
Brown opened the second half with his 75-yard scoring burst down the sideline. The run — the longest for a touchdown by a Bowl Championship Subdivision quarterback this season — came after Brown, as a precaution, sat out the end of the first half when he lost his helmet as he was tackled.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall, who last Tuesday told Brown to "just let it go, have fun," would not pin the first defeat of the season on Brown.
"Let's not put the blame on C.J. here, OK?" Edsall said of Brown, who completed 19 of 36 passes for 241 yards. "There's 11 guys that play on offense, all right? There's all 11 guys that figure into each and every play."
Edsall might have sidestepped a potential quarterback controversy with Brown's second-half performance. His backup, junior Caleb Rowe, threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Jacquille Veil to help cut the deficit to 28-20 at halftime while Brown was sitting out.
"He might have started a little slow, but that is the way C.J. has to play in order to be successful," Edsall said. "I thought he had fun out there, even though he might have taken a couple of tough hits.
"You see the kind of threat he is as a dual-threat quarterback with the big runs that he had, since they had [receivers] locked up and nobody in the middle. … I think this will give him more confidence. Without him, I don't know where we would have been."
As the Terps hit the road the next two weeks, going to Syracuse on Saturday before traveling to Indiana for their Big Ten Conference opener, opposing defenses probably will try to make Brown beat them with his arm rather than his legs.
Brown showed he is capable of making tough throws against the Mountaineers, but he also demonstrated the same inconsistencies that have been problematic since he first took over from Danny O'Brien as a redshirt sophomore.
Edsall said at a news conference before Saturday's game that Brown was "overthinking and paralyzing himself a little bit. He's just got to get back to playing the kind of football he's capable of playing."
Brown, who conceded that his grasp of Mike Locksley's offense had made him think took much, took a positive step toward being the quarterback who helped the Terps upset Virginia Tech on the road last season without Diggs or fellow starter Deon Long.
"It feels good to be at home. I felt comfortable, I was able to make adjustments from Week 1 to Week 2 to Week 3," Brown said Saturday. "I think I was seeing the right things I needed to see today and execute."
For Brown, it's often more gritty than pretty. That's what stands out to Edsall, Locksley and Brown's teammates. For all his struggles, Brown's long pass to Diggs and record run to the end zone are why they believe he will help the Terps be competitive in the Big Ten.
"It just shows a lot of character and a lot of fight that quarterbacks need to have and he showed that today," Diggs said.