COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Starting QB Jamarr Robinson (shoulder) was unable to practice at all. WR Tony Logan took the majority of snaps with the first team offense throughout the week.
As Head Coach Ralph Friedgen explained, the Maryland Terrapins were faced with quite a bit of “adversity” in the week leading up to Saturday’s game against the Florida International Panthers.
Redshirt freshman QB Danny O’Brien got the first start of his Terps career, and he made the most of it in leading the Terps (3-1) to a 42-28 win over Florida International (0-3) at Byrd Stadium.
It would be disingenuous to label the performance by O’Brien with some sort of overstated term like “brilliant” or “dazzling.” Instead, the performance would be best labeled as “effective.” Of course, “effective” was exactly what Friedgen and Offensive Coordinator James Franklin needed against a tricky Panthers defense that had put together a six sack, four interception performance at Texas A&M just a week earlier.
“Basically, we didn’t have a quarterback to practice with all week” said Friedgen. “(O’Brien) didn’t get many reps, and that’s always my concern. I was very impressed with his poise. He never got rattled. You’d think he’d at least be a little bit nervous, but I never got that from him.”
“We were trying to protect the quarterback, so we were trying to run the ball early” added Franklin. “That wasn’t as going as well as we would have liked, so the quick passing game was another way to move the ball and be able to protect the quarterback.”
They didn’t need “spectacular”, they just needed “effective.” They got it.
O’Brien finished the game a tidy 18-27 for 250 yards with two TD’s and no interceptions. His first touchdown pass to WR LaQuan Williams (Poly) was a particularly impressive nine yard fade to the back left corner of the south endzone. He also connected with WR Torrey Smith-the team’s top playmaker-eight times for 159 yards, including a 68 yard pitch and catch TD. He handled FIU pressure very well and effectively used his checkdown options instead of forcing passes into dangerous spots on the football field.
It was an especially effective performance for O’Brien considering how little Maryland was able to do on the ground in the game. Maryland finished the game with 169 net yards rushing, but all but 28 of them came on three big rushing TD plays. RB Da’Rel Scott broke off TD runs of 56 and 9 yards, while RB Davin Meggett capped scoring with a 76 yard TD scamper. But Maryland’s overall inability to establish a consistent running attack allowed FIU to hold a 34:05-25:55 advantage in time of possession and a 98-55 advantage in total offensive plays.
“I think it was a great team victory” said O’Brien. “I feel like I had a pretty good performance, (there were) a few plays I’d like back. We ran the ball and we protected great. I feel like everytime we do that, we have the receivers and running backs to beat everybody.
O’Brien got the start just a week after re-aggravating an ankle injury on his only snap in a 31-17 loss to the West Virginia Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown. He said his ankle was “close to” 100%, and wasn’t a factor during the game. Franklin confirmed that Robinson would have been available in an emergency situation, but Friedgen said Logan (who returned a punt 85 yards for a TD in the 2nd quarter) would have been the team’s backup QB.
The only problem for Friedgen and the Terps’ staff is that the performance will do little to settle their overall QB picture. Robinson and O’Brien had both played in all three games before Saturday, but Robinson was the clear starter. In fact, O’Brien saw the field for just one snap in both the Navy and WVU games, with his only snap resulting in a fumble each time. It was only against the FCS-level Morgan State Bears than O’Brien saw significant playing time before getting the start in Saturday’s victory.
“I think both (Robinson and O’Brien) will end up still playing” said Friedgen. “I think both of them have strengths. I think if we’re smart we can utilize both of their talents and we should try to do that. I’ll know that a little bit more when I see what Jamarr’s condition is.”
While Friedgen is likely to continue to work both quarterbacks into games, fans throughout the Old Line State will undoubtedly spend the week leading up to next Saturday’s contest with Duke calling for Friedgen to go with O’Brien exclusively. Fans took to Facebook and Twitter throughout the game Saturday (although only 33,254 were announced in attendance at the game) to make such statements about the QB situation. That controversy is unlikely to die down as the Terrapins face an uphill battle with only ACC games remaining on the regular season schedule.
O’Brien certainly appears to have the mental makeup to be a winner. Friedgen praised O’Brien’s mental makeup after the game, saying “that’s what you need at the quarterback position. You need a guy that can make decisions, put you in the right play and give you a chance to be successful.”
O’Brien is also unquestionably talented, and did not appear rattled by a defense that entered the game with the 28th ranked defense in the nation despite playing their first two games against opponents from BCS automatic qualifying conferences (Rutgers, Texas A&M). That being said, the two solid performances from O’Brien this season have come in emotionally flat environments; as both the Morgan State win and Saturday’s win were played in front of less than full crowds in College Park.
O’Brien has never played against an ACC opponent of any sort, while Robinson started games against bowl-bound teams like Virginia Tech and Florida State last season. O’Brien hasn’t played in electric environment, while Robinson nearly beat the Seminoles in the last game Bobby Bowden would ever coach in Tallahassee. O’Brien is not a particularly mobile QB, while Robinson has already registered a 100 yard rushing game (against the Hokies) in his career.
There are benefits to playing both quarterbacks (if both are healthy), but there appears to be some real need for consistency and leadership at the QB position. Fellow backfield mate Scott said of O’Brien “he’s a very poised young person.”
Friedgen has always remained loyal to his upperclassmen, but perhaps in this instance he would be better served to stick with O’Brien. O’Brien appears to have the better combination of physical and mental skills to win, and Robinson could still be capable of entering games to throw opponents a different look. Maryland tried to employ a similar combo two seasons ago with starter Chris Turner and speedy Florida transfer Josh Portis, but Portis often came onto the field without understanding play calls.
Loyalty is admirable, but for a team that could attract only 35,000 fans on a beautiful day in the Mid-Atlantic area, winning is more important. Incoming Athletic Director Kevin Anderson isn’t likely to value loyalty at the end of the season the same way he would value wins and losses.
In this instance, sticking with the quarterback that stood up in the face of adversity is probably the best way to go.
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