In Maryland's opener against Navy, Danny O'Brien entered the game for Jamarr Robinson at QB in the fourth quarter of a tie game with the ball at the 16. He fumbled his first and only snap.
Since, both coaches and players have claimed that the move was planned ahead of the game, to get O'Brien some playing time. But when that decision was made (4th quarter of a tie game) and the fact that it wasn't changed when Maryland got the ball in Navy's red-zone seemed to suggest that maybe - just maybe - there was some doubt on the sidelines. After all, Robinson had just two completions and 11 passing yards that day, and his first pass attempt was an interception.
What O'Brien did against Morgan State on Saturday did absolutely nothing to settle the brewing QB controversy, and in fact inflamed it. O'Brien came into the game in the second quarter of a blowout, and threw three touchdown passes of 27, 24, and 22 yards on his three first drives; all were farther than any pass Robinson completed on the night.
There are a few things that need to be pointed out: he got the ball on the good side of Morgan's 35-yard line each of those first three possessions; his second half before he was injured was average, with one very nice out throw and a bunch of incompletions; and it is, after all, Morgan State.
But for his part, Robinson didn't do anything to put the matter to rest, and that's perhaps what's most troubling. His final stat line was 6-14 for 70 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. Almost all of his passes were of the short (and relatively easy) variety, and its clear at this point that either he's not comfortable with the intermediate passing game or the coaching staff isn't. O'Brien threw three balls past twenty yards in the air; Robinson's farthest was 12. And, of course, the interception was terribly ugly; it was either a failed attempt to throw out of bounds, a terrible miscommunication, or an even worse mis-read.
O'Brien (5-10, 79 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT) had a better completion percentage, more yards, and more touchdowns in fewer attempts than Robinson. He also looked like a future pro QB, and was far more calm in the pocket than Robinson (at least on the blurry ESPN3 feed).
It was also Morgan State.
Then again, both quarterbacks were facing the same opponent, and one looked markedly better than the other.
Regardless, that performance will raise the questions, as it already has, of whether or not Robinson or O'Brien will be starting next week against West Virginia in Morgantown. The coaching staff has seemingly been ready to pull Robinson since fall practice started, and the performances against Navy and Morgan State haven't done anything to help that.
He looked okay last year throwing the ball, and that leaves one to wonder what exactly is different this year, when he looks shaky against Morgan State and downright bad against Navy. He had a great arm last year, barely missing deep touchdowns to Torrey Smith twice in his first game; he's yet to attempt a long throw downfield at all this year except his two interceptions. Even those looked unnatural, like he was trying to push or float the ball, rather than simply throw it.
Regardless of why, Robinson just doesn't look like an adequate passer. When the coaching staff pulled him out of the game against Navy, they seemed to agree. The problem is that Maryland will need to be able to pass the ball in the future; not every team is going to be manning a front-line of 250-pounders (Navy) or just be awful (Morgan State). When Maryland's size and athleticism is matched (or outmatched) by West Virginia, the passing game will become a necessity; maybe a necessary evil, but a necessity.
In O'Brien's limited time, his arm looked better, his reads more consistent, and his pocket presence more confident. He doesn't have Robinson's feet, but he showed (twice) that he can at least get out of the pocket if he needs to.
The problem is that he's attempted a grand total of 10 passes in his collegiate career, and they all came against the lowly competition that is Morgan State. The jump between the level of Morgan State at home and West Virginia in Morgantown is gigantic; do you really want to play someone making his first career start in that type of atmosphere?
There's another x-factor in this decision: O'Brien's ankle. He sprained it in the third quarter and left the game; Friedgen said the timetable is unknown, but James Franklin claimed he should be ready for West Virginia. If the ankle doesn't heal, I guess the decision is made. If it does, we're back to square one.
It's going to be a tough call. Robinson's proven that he can't pass, O'Brien's not yet proven he can pass against top-flight teams, and the coaches might've proven that they don't trust Robinson's arm.
My gut: play Robinson for the first quarter or so, and if he's out-classed throw in Danny. First, I'm not entirely sold on O'Brien's ability to play against an athletic team like WVU; second, I'm not entirely sold on his poise holding up in Morgantown. But if Robinson goes out and fails, the opportunity cost of playing O'Brien shrinks to nothing and it's more than worth the try.
But I'm not a coach. The quotes from Friedgen and Franklin regarding the potential QB dilemma will be heavily analyzed in the coming week.
Either way, it's better than last year, right? (BTW: poll of this will be coming on Monday or Tuesday; not enough traffic on Sundays).