Maryland’s quarterback options were whittled further Thursday when the school announced sophomore Devin Burns suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot, leaving true freshman Caleb Rowe as the only remaining scholarship option.
It’s nothing new for the Terrapins, who are virtual pros at moving forward from quarterback ailments. When Rowe starts Saturday at Boston College, it will mark the sixth straight year Maryland needed multiple starting quarterbacks in a season.
Perry Hills, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, was Maryland’s starter for the first seven games. The last Terp to start every game at quarterback was Sam Hollenbach in 2006, with injuries costing Maryland’s opening-week starter at least one game every year since then.
“Once is an accident, twice is a trend, three times ” defensive lineman A.J. Francis said earlier this week before trailing off. “It’s kind of unbelievable.”
Unless you’re Navy, that is. The Midshipmen are one of only five major-college programs with a longer drought of wire-to-wire quarterbacks than Maryland. Lamar Owens’ turn as the lone starter in 2005 was the last time Navy avoided injury and ineffectiveness enough to squeak through a year without turning to its backup.
“You learn to cope with it and you learn to expect it, really, especially with our offense,” said Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, who presides over the Mids’ triple-option scheme. “It’s basically another running back back there.”
If nothing else, both programs are well-versed in handling such situations. Navy (4-3), which visits East Carolina on Saturday, is playing especially crisp under freshman Keenan Reynolds. The Mids opened the year with junior Trey Miller, who struggled with turnovers before turning in a solid performance at Air Force marred by a left ankle injury that forced him from the game.
Reynolds entered and rallied Navy to a victory over its service academy rival, then led the Mids to victories over Central Michigan and Indiana.
Maryland can only hope for such a stirring performance from Rowe, who played the first four snaps of his college career in Saturday’s 20-18 loss to N.C. State. It was in that game that Hills was injured. He was relieved by Burns, who appeared to injure his left foot while unsuccessfully eluding a sack with about seven minutes to play.
Toss in junior C.J. Brown’s preseason ACL tear, and Maryland (4-3, 2-1 ACC) has dealt with even greater quarterback tumult than usual, even by its standards.
“You go through these things so you know how to handle them,” said coach Randy Edsall, who endured injury epidemics a few times during a 12-year stint at Connecticut. “You’ve experienced it before so it’s not foreign territory to you. You have a background on how you have to do it and how you have to handle the players and how you have to get ready to go compete. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Planning for trouble
Navy was blessed with durable quarterbacks in the early years of its current triple-option era.
Owens. Aaron Polanco. Craig Candeto.
“It’s been hit or miss ever since,” Jasper said. “We’ve always prided ourselves on having two quarterbacks. It’s always been a must for us. It’s always been part of our philosophy. We rep two guys. There’s two huddles in practice, every single drill. The backup and starter gets the same amount of reps.”
In recent years, the annual juggling got Ricky Dobbs his first career start late in the 2008 season, earned Kriss Proctor spot starts in place of Dobbs in 2009 and 2010 and gave Miller the nod at Notre Dame last year.
That nature of Navy’s offense places a quarterback in some vulnerable positions. He must run between the tackles. He can be hit in open space. Scrambles to keep plays alive are possible. That’s why even to an admittedly superstitious man like slotback Bo Snelson, there isn’t a sense there is a hex on the position in Annapolis.
“When you put all that on a quarterback when he’s as reliant on his legs as much as relying on his arm, and we’re not 6-6, 320, up front, we’re small and scrappy, your quarterback is going to take some licks, and he’s got to be a tough guy,” Snelson said. “At the same time, things are going to happen. You never wish that on someone, but when it does, that’s the nature of the game.”
Coach Ken Niumatalolo often discusses manufacturing depth, and the two-huddle practice philosophy helps Navy achieve it. In turn, it helps the Mids’ reserve quarterbacks play well.
Dobbs, Proctor and Reynolds led the Mids to victories in their first career starts. In the past three games, Reynolds accounted for five touchdowns and no turnovers.
“The constant has been the guy coaching them and the system that we run,” Niumatalolo said. “Fortunately, we’re not changing coordinators. Coach Jasper has been coaching the quarterbacks for the last decade. There’s a constant that even though the person is changing, the verbiage, the tutelage, the guidance, the teaching is coming from one person. I think that’s what gives us our stability.”
Managing at Maryland
There is no such consistency for the Terps, who have employed five offensive coordinators over the past nine years and managed only one wire-to-wire starting quarterback in that span.
And just as the offensive system has changed, so too have the injuries. There has been a concussion (Jordan Steffy in 2007), a broken thumb (Steffy in 2008), an injured medial collateral ligament (Chris Turner in 2009), a sore shoulder (Jamarr Robinson in 2010) and a broken nonthrowing arm (Danny O’Brien in 2011).
Then came the back-to-back ACL tears for Brown and Hills, continuing a long line of Maryland quarterback injuries. Of the Terps’ 12 starting quarterbacks since 1999, only one (Joel Statham) did not miss at least half of a game because of injury during a year he drew a start.
“We’re going to be in it together,” Brown said of himself and Hills. “It’s just an unfortunate process. Hopefully this bug will get out of Maryland.”
None of Maryland’s current players has known life in the program without such lousy luck. With Hills and Burns going down, the Terps simply will adjust and move on.
It never gets easy. But it isn’t an unfamiliar experience, either.
“It’s a sad story,” linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield said. “I hate it has to be like this. I hate that it happens but I’ve been through it over and over and over again. Each you, you just have to move on and just support your teammates. This not being the first time it’s happened, I’m not worried about it at all. I have confidence in whoever steps in and starts at quarterback.”
That will be Rowe. His new emergency backups are a pair of true freshmen, linebacker Shawn Petty (who played quarterback at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt) and walk-on tight end Brian McMahon (a former quarterback at Atholton High School in Columbia, Md.).
With five games to go, the Terps hope their quota of quarterback injuries doesn’t grow before the season is through. But if it does, they’ll simply move along to the next man.
It is, after all, standard procedure in College Park.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Edsall said. “You feel bad for those guys, but hey, we’ve got to just go about our business and work to win games. I told Caleb to go out there and have fun and that it’s his team. He doesn’t have to worry about a quick hook.”
NOTES: Maryland also will be without wide receiver Marcus Leak, who broke his toe on a long reception against N.C. State and is expected to miss the rest of the season. Leak has 23 receptions for 393 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Nigel King will start in his place.
• Guard Bennett Fulper (turf toe) will miss his second straight game Saturday, while wideout Kerry Boykins (hip/groin) will sit out for the fourth time in five games.