Another week, another round of incessant questioning and speculation about who will start at quarterback.
If it feels like we were doing this just two weeks ago, it's because we were. That's when Danny O'Brien had gotten pulled after a string of poor performances, replaced by C.J. Brown, who was at the helm during a late Georgia Tech comeback and helped the offense put up 38 points - and almost pull an upset - against Clemson. Then Brownstruggled on Saturday before recklessly scrambling in the third quarter and getting tattooed by Nigel Bradham in a helmet-to-helmet collision.
Brown looked dazed getting up and, unsurprisingly, was replaced by O'Brien while team doctors analyzed him for potential head injuries. O'Brien looked good early, completing a few passes before teaming up with Quintin McCree for a 67-yard TD that set up Maryland's first touchdown of the afternoon. The next three drives were unsuccessful and gave Florida State an opportunity to break away and put the game out of reach, but he still finished 9-18 for 180 yards with two touchdowns - one through the air, and one on the ground.
After the game, we learned that Brown was actually cleared by doctors to return, but Randy Edsall went with O'Brien anyway. Edsall hasn't given any hint as to who'll start on Saturday against Boston College, only saying that it'll be another game-time decision.
So, here we go again. In one corner, there's Brown, who has done nothing to refute the notion that his arm is iffy nor that his running ability is spectacular. In the other, there's O'Brien, who is still struggling this season with either the scheme or his own confidence (or both), but is more proven and has a much better arm.
When Brown came in a few weeks ago, the expectation was that he'd run the offense more smoothly, make plays with his legs, and not make mistakes through the air. That was more or less the script through his two full games (a half against GT, a full game against Clemson, and a half against FSU): he was at times breath-taking with his running ability, with the 77-yard touchdown against GT and several times against the Tigers, and he had only one turnover. On the ground, against the right defense, he's the type of guy who can make a huge individual impact with his athleticism, and that's not easily turned away for an offense currently 9th in the ACC in scoring average.
But Brown's arm is a problem-maker, as it allows defenses to cheat up without any danger of being burnt over the top. That makes it harder for the ground game to work, even with Brown's athleticism, as we saw against the Seminoles: his longest rush was a measly nine yards, and he was consistently pinned in by an athletic, disciplined D. I'm not worried about interceptions - he threw one against Clemson, but it wasn't heinous, and the topic is a bit of a moot point to me anyway, given that O'Brien has been more of a problem in that area. But his arm does tend to limit Maryland's offense, as we saw in the FSU game and late in the Clemson loss as well.
Which is where O'Brien comes in. He's struggled all season, but we all got a reminder of his abilities last Saturday. Right away, the offense started to take more shots downfield, and he was obviously more comfortable taking the ball deep. The O'Brien-to-McCree 67-yarder was an impressive display of both Danny's mind - he audibled to the play after reading the defense - and his arm - the throw was off his back foot and against pressure. He unleashed two more pretty deep balls on the final drive, too, and all of a sudden the visions of freshman Danny O came rushing back. Just like that, it had seemed like Maryland had found a cure for its months-long problem of stretching the field.
Unfortunately, the rest of his performance didn't really match. Outside of those three plays - one of which relied much upon a great individual effort from McCree, the other two of which were against FSU's scrubs - he was 7-16 for 55 yards. Truthfully, it wasn't a markedly better performance than Brown, given that Florida State hadn't prepared for him at all, instead prepping for Brown's legs. Throw in the fact that FSU is A) easily the best defense on Maryland's schedule, and B) a terrible matchup for an athletic, running quarterback like Brown, thanks to their athleticism, discipline, and the amount of zone they played, and I'm not ready to call it definitely DOB's way. For O'Brien's part, he was was plagued by the same problems he's had most of the season: missing some reads, underthrowing short and mid-range routes, and, frankly, poor performance from his wide receivers.
Which brings me to my larger point: Maryland has bigger issues than just quarterback. No matter whether its Brown or O'Brien, they're working with the same inconsistent receivers, the same offensive line whose early strong performance has given way to poor protection, the same defense who can't stop the opponents' passing game, the same questionable coaching staff. I said it earlier, and I still believe it: Brown and O'Brien have incredibly different skillsets, but if this team fixes its other problems and fully tailor their offensive scheme to one of them, either QB is good enough to lead Maryland to win. At this point, though, neither is good enough to win games on their own, overcoming all those other problems on the way.
(That doesn't mean the QB spot doesn't matter, or who will man it isn't of importance. I just don't think it's a make-or-break problem right now compared to everything else that's going on.)
It's tough to get a feel on which way they'll go, and certainly tougher than last time when I felt that Brown had a substantial lead. This time, I'm not so sure. The fact that Brown didn't return despite being cleared might've just meant that Edsall wanted to protect him, but it's just as likely that he thought that O'Brien gave them the best chance to win. In that instance, he did, and the fact that Edsall acted on it makes me think he isn't married to either QB.
I still ultimately believe that Crowton, like most coaches, believes in his scheme, and that means the quarterback better suited to run it (Brown) has an advantage. Over the long-term, though, if it remains Brown, they'll have to figure out a way to stretch the field with him and give the offense some deep bite. Otherwise, the attack will run into some problems against strong defenses and O'Brien may be a more effective option.
And yes, like most of the people in the fanbase right now, I'd happily consider a two-QB scheme. Whether it was in a more traditional route currently being utilized by Texas and Notre Dame, where one would be the main guy and the other would get a few change of pace snaps, or the alternative thing Northwestern has done with Kain Colter, giving him a few snaps at QB but also sticking him out wide or even at RB. It's a bit more progressive than you'd expect out of Edsall and Crowton, but remember that LSU often used two QBs - albeit it more or less to their detriment - when Crowton was back there, too.
All in all, no one has much of an idea who'll take the field on Saturday, least of all Boston College. And that's just the way Edsall wants it. The two most successful offensive games this year have probably been the opener against Miami and Brown's first start against Clemson, and it's no surprise that those are the two games in which the defenses had no idea what to prepare for. Even if Maryland shouldn't have any problem with BC, you take any bonus you can get with the way things are going right now.