It sounded absurd in principle.
It worked out about as expected in practice during a game.
Shawn Petty, a scout team linebacker a fortnight ago, took the field Saturday as perhaps the most unexpected starting quarterback in Maryland football history.
“Of course it was a big surprise,” Petty said. “I was just always ready when they called my number. As coach [Randy] Edsall always says, it’s next man up. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Especially not this year. Especially not in College Park.
Petty’s performance, however commendable it was, wasn’t the most noteworthy part of Maryland’s 33-13 loss to Georgia Tech at Byrd Stadium. Sure, he tossed two touchdowns. And yes, he committed two turnovers.
But more to the point, the important thing was that this was really happening. And, assuming Petty doesn’t befall a similar fate as his four predecessors atop the Terrapins’ quarterback depth chart, it will continue happening for the rest of the month.
It’s unlikely this trip into the bizarre will last much longer than another three weeks. Maryland (4-5, 2-3 ACC) must win two games of its last three to extend its season beyond month’s end. No. 9 Florida State and No. 10 Clemson remain on the schedule. The short-term prospects are, to put it bluntly, not promising.
Nonetheless, Petty more than acquitted himself on the curious conditions, particularly in the second half. He accounted for all but one of his 115 passing yards after the break and connected with Stefon Diggs on a pair of touchdown passes.
“You just don’t go out and line up at this level only having seven practices and think everything’s going to happen the way you hope it happens,” Edsall said. “Once he got settled in and we kind of could see what we could do with him and what would help, I think he showed his poise.”
It was, ultimately, about as much as Maryland could have expected from its No. 5 quarterback. C.J. Brown (knee) was lost for the season in August. Perry Hills (knee), Devin Burns (foot) and Caleb Rowe (knee) all followed in a signal-caller epidemic over the last two weeks.
There was little reason for anyone (Georgia Tech included) to believe Petty would throw much and, for a half, he didn’t. It also meant the Yellow Jackets (4-5, 3-3) knew precisely what was coming.
Unsurprisingly, Maryland broached Georgia Tech territory for the first time just moments before the break. More startlingly, the Terps’ defense struggled to contain the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense, which cobbled together three straight scoring drives in the first half to secure a 20-0 lead.
The outcome all but secured, the rest of the afternoon provided a revealing trial for Petty, who briefly returned to the locker room in the first half with an undisclosed injury.
If not perfect, the rest of the day was at least reflective of the laid-back linebacker teammates described during the week.
“Normally you see a freshman quarterback in his first start get nervous,” tailback Brandon Ross said. “I didn’t really see that he was nervous that much, at least he didn’t show it in his face. I think he played poised. In the first half, he was just trying to get his feet wet and get adjusted, but I thought he played pretty well.”
Edsall said Petty never offered a flustered look, never exhibited a look of bewilderment.
Instead, he found Diggs on a perfectly set up 16-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, then connected with Diggs again on a 23-yard jump ball in the end zone to end the game.
The end result, besides the Maryland loss? A 9 of 18 passing day for 115 yards and two touchdowns and an interception. Not great. Not dreadful, either.
“I feel like there’s a lot of things I could have done better,” Petty said. “I don’t think there’s anything I excelled in today.”
But he did handle the job under bizarre conditions, which is no small thing for a Maryland quarterback these days. The Terps’ predicament is no less wacky than it was a few days ago, and no less unfathomable, either.
Scout team linebackers are not supposed to become starting quarterbacks in a span of two weeks. And while Petty did not produce a victory, he did something almost as important for the Terps.
He (apparently) survived Saturday in one piece.
“I think he earned a tremendous amount of respect from our team, but I think from the opposing team for going into that situation and doing what he did,” Edsall said. “It’s very, very difficult. I never had it happened before and hope I never have it happen again. I just hope we can keep him healthy for the next three weeks.”
—- Patrick Stevens