QB quandary for Terps

O’Brien’s role in flux after he’s pulled again

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ATLANTA — So much changed during the Maryland football program’s extreme makeover in the past 10 months. A head coach was fired, another hired and most of the staff turned over. Schemes were overhauled. There was an exodus of players for a variety of reasons.

The Terrapins even received a new look with their style-over-substance hype of new uniforms.

The cornerstone through the tumult was the same. Danny O'Brien was a program cornerstone, a mature and intelligent quarterback with three years of eligibility remaining who provided far greater appeal to potential coaching prospects and recruits than an oft-deserted Byrd Stadium and a recent history of average finishes in the ACC.

Five games into coach Randy Edsall’s tenure, O'Brien’s status is surprisingly tenuous, and Maryland faces an unexpected quarterback quandary after Saturday’s 21-16 loss at then-No. 13 Georgia Tech.

O'Brien was yanked for the second straight week with the outcome far from settled. C.J. Brown entered with the Terps up 14-3 on Towson on Oct. 1, played a series and then returned to the sideline. O'Brien then guided consecutive touchdown drives to clinch the victory, and Edsall said afterward Brown’s cameo was “planned.”

Saturday was different. O’Brien, who was 1-for-6 for 17 yards, was benched after an interception in the second quarter. Brown entered and offset his choppiness in the passing game (4 of 17 for 36 yards and an interception) with his effectiveness as a rusher (124 yards).

And just like that, Maryland’s certainty under center is gone a little more than a year after O'Brien first claimed the job and went on to win the ACC’s rookie of the year award.

Edsall, ever tight-lipped about personnel, was predictably reticent about who will start when Maryland (2-3, 1-1 ACC) plays host to No. 8 Clemson (6-0, 3-0) on Saturday. He said the choice - sticking with O'Brien for a 16th straight start or handing Brown his first opening nod — will be a game-time decision.

“We’re going to evaluate that situation just like we evaluate all the positions on a week-to-week basis,” Edsall said Sunday.

With only two scholarship quarterbacks at his disposal, Edsall received a look at his only realistic options at various points the past three weeks. Brown’s playing time has grown from week to week - from garbage time in a blowout loss to Temple to the brief appearance against Towson when it was a two-possession game to the first truly extended action of his career Saturday.

Brown was part of the same recruiting class as O'Brien. While O'Brien was throwing 22 touchdown passes last year, Brown played only one series before suffering a season-ending shoulder surgery.

The sophomore threw 10 incompletions before connecting with Ronnie Tyler early in the fourth quarter Saturday. But he also uncorked a 77-yard touchdown run, the longest rush by a Maryland quarterback since at least 1993.

“I know the passing game in and out, like I’m supposed to,” Brown said. “It might not have shown today, but I knew I was making the correct reads. Maybe the balls weren’t there on time and it was a little off, but I was trying and I’ll get better week to week.”

O'Brien, meanwhile, endured the latest rough day in his surprising slide that’s included four touchdowns and six interceptions to date. While O'Brien is just as well-regarded for his study habits and approach to the game as ever, two obvious variables have changed since last season.

First, the Terps are substantially less experienced at wide receiver after the departures of Torrey Smith, Adrian Cannon and LaQuan Williams. Of perhaps greater significance is the spread offense installed after Edsall’s hire, a switch from the West Coast scheme espoused by former Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin.

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