Maryland impresses in season opener
COLLEGE PARK--No one asked Shawn Petty to throw a football on Saturday.
Not head coach Randy Edsall. Not offensive coordinator Mike Locksley. No other player asked to play catch during warmups.
Petty isn’t even 100 percent sure he wrapped his hands around a football at any point.
Instead, the linebacker Petty did what he was originally recruited to Maryland to do. He put on his pads, lined up on special teams, and hit opposing players who had the ball in their hands.
Just like he had planned.
But that was a change of pace for the sophomore, who as a freshman was thrown into the fire at quarterback after an improbable series of injuries ended the seasons of four able-bodied players ahead of him.
The Terps made it through last season with their oddly arranged house, so to speak, with Petty, the 6-0, 240-pound refrigerator, for some reason situated in the living room and forced to act like nothing was out of the ordinary.
But Saturday the refrigerator was back in the kitchen, and the couch in the living room, and the bed in the bedroom in a 43-10 win over Florida International at Byrd Stadium in College Park.
Senior quarterback C.J. Brown completed 20-of-23 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns, having fully recovered from a 2012 knee injury, while adding 11 rushes for 105 yards and two more scores.
His five total touchdowns were the most in a game by a Maryland quarterback since Scott O’Brien tallied six against North Carolina in 2003.
“Early today I was playing around with [C.J.],” Petty told CSN with a wide smile, holding back laughter. “I said, ‘If y’all need a real quarterback, you can always call me.’”
Petty’s offer is welcome, one would assume, but the Terps now appear to be set.
With Brown under center on Saturday, Maryland’s offense produced as it had expected that it would last season.
Before the injuries, before the shuffling of chairs, and before the six-game slide to end the year, this was how it was supposed to go.
“We were running the ball well today. We were throwing the ball well today,” Brown said. “We were hitting on all cylinders.
"After the first series, all the nerves and cobwebs were off. I was definitely nervous to get back out there. It had been a year. From riding the bus and coming down and participating in pregame warmups and going out there and having fun and executing; I couldn’t ask for anything better."
And Brown had his choice of weapons.
All-conference receiver Stefon Diggs was in mid-season form, catching five balls for 98 yards and a touchdown.
His touchdown was a 66-yard play and he, in fact, was the player closest to making the tackle. He stumbled and nearly fell before regaining his balance and taking it the distance.
There is a new element to Diggs’ game this season, one that has more to do with how defenses will play him, rather than what he brings to the wide receiver position. He finally has a high-level complementary receiver opposite him.
Deon Long, a junior college transfer making his way back from a back injury, had nine catches for 110 yards on Saturday. Long had originally been scheduled to mix 4-6 weeks with the injury, but worked his way back in just two.
"[The receivers and Brown have] had chemistry since the first seven-on-seven," Long said. "During the summer we’d come out here on Sundays and probably Saturday nights sometime, turn the lights on the field and get working. C.J.’s an athlete, so regardless if we took a month off, we wouldn’t lose much of what we have, chemistry-wise.
“Since the day I got hurt, I had in my mind I’m not missing six weeks,” Long told CSN. “I say I was 80 percent today, but I should be 100 real soon."
And that wide receiver tandem was helped by the effectiveness of a rushing attack that relied heavily on the read option.
A run by Brown of 64 yards and his 29-yard touchdown run were direct products of that formation.
That, in turn, opened up the field deep for Long and Diggs.
"Deon is a very explosive receiver on the outside," said Diggs. "The majority of the game, I open it up for him and he opens it up for me. As a group, they can't shut us both down."
We can’t necessarily know solely from Maryland’s performance Saturday what we will see the rest of the season.
But now the house is in order. Everything ought to be--and, by gosh, it is--where it should be.
Now the Terps must avoid a stumbling block against Old Dominion next Saturday.