COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The Terps did exactly what was expected of them on paper entering Saturday night’s game against Morgan State, completing a 62-3 thrashing of the Bears in the schools’ first ever meeting.
Even a below-average team in a BCS conference — what Maryland is expected to be this season — should easily handle an inferior FCS opponent or a small conference school every time.
It’s exactly what the Terps, however, have struggled to do in recent history.
In 2008, it was a narrow 14-7 victory over Delaware followed by a shocking 24-14 loss to Middle Tennessee. A season ago, the Terps needed overtime to defeat James Madison 38-35 for its first victory of the season and laid an egg the following week, losing to Middle Tennesse for the second straight year, 32-31.
“It’s a great start,” said defensive end Drew Gloster, who clearly noticed Virginia Tech’s shocking loss to FCS school James Madison earlier on Saturday. “We had something to prove today going out against Morgan State. You see a lot of ACC teams losing today, but we represented our conference well.”
The Terps had little excuse for not blowing out the in-state school from the MEAC, racking up 45 points and 252 total yards in the first half and inserting backups for most of the final 30 minutes.
“We’re still a work in progress,” said receiver Torrey Smith, who caught two touchdowns. “We made a lot of mistakes, but we know we can score. It’s just a matter of us being consistent and going out there and getting it done — all the time.”
In reality, little can be learned from the Terps’ dominating performance other than to conclude the Bears won’t be applying for BCS membership any time soon.The Maryland defense held Morgan State to 3 points and 85 total yards (16 in the first half), the lowest number of yards allowed during the Ralph Friedgen era. The Terps should feel good about a 2-0 start, but no one knows how much better — if very much at all — this team is than it was a year ago.
More than anything, the 62-3 victory may have created a bigger quarterback controversy than already anticipated.
Jamarr Robinson improved his passing totals after an embarrassing effort (11 yards) against Navy, completing 6 of 13 passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns in the first half before being pulled from the game early in the second quarter. However, the first significant playing time for redshirt freshman Danny O’Brien will have more fans clamoring for the strong-armed passer over the fleet-footed Robinson.
O’Brien threw three touchdowns passes on his first three collegiate completions, his first being a beautiful 27-yard dart to tight end Matt Furstenburg before tossing scores to Torrey Smith and Da’Rel Scott. Of course, the Bears’ defense is a far cry from the defenses O’Brien will see during the ACC schedule, but his ability is difficult to overlook when looking at the crop of talented receivers largely being wasted with Robinson under center.
“O’Brien is one of the more advanced freshman that I’ve been around,” offensive coordinator James Franklin said. “When you throw the ball 10 times and three of them are for touchdowns, I mean that’s pretty good. It doesn’t take a genius to see that.”
Robinson’s scrambling ability is an unquestionable asset for Franklin’s offense, but major doubts exist in his ability to produce through the air, something he will need to do starting next week when the Terps travel to a hostile environment in Morgantown to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers. For now, it appears Friedgen will go with the two-quarterback approach as we have seen in the past during his 10-year tenure as the Terps coach.
“We’ve been planning on playing [Robinson] and [O’Brien],” Franklin said. “Felt like all camp we had two [starters], and obviously they are both athletic guys. Danny probably brings a little bit different game than Jamar, but they’re both athletic guys who can do a lot of things. We’ll evaluate the film and go from there.”
It will be a delicate balance that Friedgen and Franklin will have to approach carefully to avoid disruptions of rhythm and flow like we saw last week when O’Brien entered a tie game early in the fourth quarter and promptly fumbled his first hand-off to Davin Meggett, instantly killing a red-zone opportunity. Two-quarterback systems can work at the college level — see the 2007 Florida Gators with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow — but it takes a strong feel for the game by the head coach, a trait many feel Friedgen has lacked in recent seasons in College Park.
Maryland’s first two games have been difficult to use in trying to assess how good this team really is. With Navy’s unconventional triple option racking up significant yardage but self-destructing in the red zone and overmatched Morgan State simply lacking the talent needed to compete with an ACC school, even a bad team may have stolen these two wins.
“I think we’re better than last year, no question about that,” Friedgen said. “I’m interested in how good we are this week [against West Virginia]. But I think this team has a chance to be a very good team. I’ve said that all along.”
The first real test will come next Saturday against rival West Virginia, who will look to rebound after a scary 24-21 overtime victory over Marshall on Friday night. If Maryland goes to Morgantown and knocks off the Mountaineers, they can begin to whisper about the possibility of making some noise in a very average-looking ACC through the first two weeks of the season.
Until then, the Terps can enjoy the 2-0 start — already matching their win total from a season ago — but the first two weeks have been played against unconventional opposition.
Starting next week, we’ll see what Maryland is really made of.
“They’re 2-0, and we’re 2-0,” Gloster said. “There is a good rivalry between us. We are just looking forward to the opportunity to be 3-0.”
INJURY UPDATE: O’Brien suffered a sprained ankle, but the injury is not considered serious, according to Franklin. Freshman quarterback C.J. Brown broke his collarbone and will likely be out eight weeks, per Friedgen. Defensive lineman Marcus Whitfield dislocated his patella and will have an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of the injury.
NOTES: Maryland is off to its first 2-0 start since 2007 when the Terps opened with victories over Villanova and Florida International. … The Terps’ 17 points in the first quarter was the most in an opening quarter since scoring 24 at home against the Citadel in a 61-0 victory on Sept. 13, 2003. … O’Brien’s first touchdown pass came on the first pass attempt of his collegiate career. His three touchdown passes came in his first four attempts. … Freshman running back D.J. Adams led the Terps in rushing with 70 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns. … The last time Maryland scored 60 in a game was the win over the Citadel in 2003.