Your one and only natural quarterback, at least. And, unless AMQBHG decides to take another perfectly innocent man's lower leg ligaments, your starting quarterback from now until the end of time. Or until C.J. Brown heals up, whichever comes first.
Due to his late-game insertion against N.C. State, everyone's seen Caleb Rowe play three snaps of ACC-level college football, in which went 2-2 for 50 yards and threw in an 11 yard run for good measure, which gives him a passer rating of, oh, 310 or so. (Small sample sizes FTW.)
But an N.C. State defense playing off and sending pressure isn't really the same as an ACC defense looking to make life hell for a rookie, with complex blitz packages, tighter coverage, and ballhawking safeties. How Rowe makes the leap from a relatively small school in Greer, S.C., to big-time college football is anyone's guess. But in case you want to know more about him than what those three snaps told you (which would be that he's the greatest quarterback of all time), here's a refresher course in all things Rowe.
First of all, his high school career is a little stranger than most's. He played at something of a small school against not-great competition, and received little in the way of offers outside of Maryland's, which he earned after tearing up one of their passer camps. Few others took notice, at least until he ripped up the O-D Bowl, too, earning the game's MVP award over the likes of Nathan Peterman, Jovon Robinson, J.C. Coleman, and a whole host of other four-star, top-250 types. That helped bump him up to a composite three-star prospect.
But when Rowe was coming through, I didn't really think much of him - with C.J. Brown in front of him (and, at the time, Danny O'Brien as well), plus Perry Hills, I didn't think he'd see the field anytime soon. Obviously now things are a little more urgent, so I went back and watched his senior and junior highlights, plus cut-ups from the O-D and Shrine Bowls, which is, in short, a lot of video. Obviously highlight films aren't perfect, the coaches know more, and one big factor is left unattested: consistency. Just because a player makes a throw once doesn't mean he'll make it all the time. So grains of salt need to be taken with everything. But they can tell tell you what type of player someone is, and we can sort of meld that with things we've heard and read about Rowe since he's stepped on campus to paint at least something of a picture as to where he stands. And that's a lot more comforting than flying blind.
Physically, he's unimposing. He tested at a combine in high school at 6-3 and 211, but is listed at 6-2 and 205 by Maryland. The height's fine, but he's pretty slim and lanky at the moment, which doesn't bode well for a guy who's going to be dropping back a lot and potentially taking a lot of hits. It seems like he hasn't quite grown into his body yet, and adding strength and muscle mass over the summer is going to be something he'll need to work on (and, I imagine, one factor as to why wrestler-sized Perry Hills got the nod instead of Rowe). He's actually underrated as an athlete, though. His electronic 40 time is 4.91, which, if the +.22 average holds true, would put it at a perfectly respectable 4.69 coming out of high school, hand-timed. He looks closer to that 4.69, as he flashes the wheels to do damage if he's given enough space, and he clearly has no qualms about pulling the ball down and running, occasionally for big plays.
I mentioned earlier that I'm not sure how comfortable Maryland would be in letting him run the read option, and I stand by that at this point. He's a good athlete, but not a good enough athlete or strong enough to take shots as a runner on a consistent basis. He's good enough to run the zone-read, don't get me wrong, but certainly not on a full-time basis like Devin Burns did. No, if Maryland's going to have a run-centric offense, it's going to have to be a traditional, straight-ahead running attack, and we saw how that worked through the first half of the season.
The good news, though: I'd wager that he has the best arm of anyone on Maryland's campus. His right arm is a cannon, especially on lofted long balls, which he flashed the ability to throw 55-60 yards with accuracy. Maryland's only attempted a handful of deep balls all season long; none of them have come off. If absolutely nothing else, Rowe will add that aspect to Maryland's offense, which will give Stefon Diggs yet another avenue to make big plays.
I'm a bit less confidence on his short and intermediate passes, which still look fine but aren't always thrown on a rope when they need to be. His touch, though, looks very good, and when he's on he can drop passes into small windows perfectly. His mechanics are a little funky which could affect accuracy in the future, but at the moment there aren't a lot of serious concerns to be had about his arm.
But, for me at least, the most encouraging and intriguing things about Rowe are his intangibles and the way he plays the game. He's clearly a smart kid, but he plays the game with some rare swagger and confidence. He's a prototypical gunslinger, and plays the game with the type of joy and bravado we've come to expect from gunslingers. That bravado can get him in trouble, but it also gives him the ability to pull off some truly extraordinary plays from unlikely situations, plus giving his teammates the ability to do the same.
And as to the "smart kid" part of it, he obviously has top-notch pocket awareness. He seems to identify blitzes readily, and doesn't panic when he's under pressure. Instead, he uses his athleticism to escape the pocket - his scrambles back there reminded me a bit of Jake Plummer in his heyday - but he generally keeps his eyes upfield, reading the secondary (which is almost certainly falling apart by now) and looking for an opening, which he generally finds. Maryland's line may test his ability to do just that, but I'd imagine he'd welcome the challenge. He seems at his best when things have a little bit of chaos to them.
On both of those notes, it seems someone like Stefon Diggs will really enjoy having Rowe as a quarterback and potentially thrive with him, because Rowe seems to always be looking to let his receivers make plays. Even if he can't put it exactly where he wants to, he's okay with letting it fly and getting it just close enough to see if maybe the receiver can make something happen, even if Rowe himself can't. Rowe's arm is good enough to get the ball in the vicinity of the receiver, and Diggs is, of course, a "making things happen" specialist. Expect him to play an even bigger role than he has recently.
But like I alluded to earlier, this can be the type of thing that gets Rowe in trouble at this level. He has something of a Honey Badger quality to him when it comes to risky plays (the "don't give a s***t" part). More than once he made a diving shovel pass when he was being sacked, which came off okay but very easily could've ended in disaster. Likewise, he has absolutely no qualms about forcing a ball into a small space, because he does appear to have that immense confidence in his ability and his teammates'. You want your QB to have confidence, but with the athletes around at this level, too much confidence will be punished.
Okay, so with that understood, how might Maryland use him, then? It's an interesting dilemma for Locksley, who at least has the benefit of having a lot more information about Rowe and the rest of the team than we do. In an ideal world, you'd look at it and think that it's a perfect time for Maryland to rely on the running game. But how? Their success against N.C. State was due in large part to the zone-read and the threat of Devin Burns, which probably won't work, or at least will be less effective, with Rowe. And in the first half of the season Maryland was completely inept when it came to running the ball, either on the ZR or against a straight-up front. Maybe Wes Brown happens to be the answer here. Or maybe he isn't, and the problems are more structural.
If that's the case, you'd think Maryland would look to that same West Coast spread they used against N.C. State with Hills, when they called twice as many pass plays as they did run plays. Rowe has a better arm than Hills for my money, and with better athleticism and pocket awareness may be able to avoid the sacks that killed Maryland's drives. It plays to his strengths, too, as well as Maryland's, given the Terrapins' depth at receiver. As a bonus, it would force opposing linebackers out of the box, opening up a power run game up the middle with Brown later in the game.
The question will be whether the staff is comfortable in letting him pull the trigger more than 30 times a game, which itself will be determined by whether or not Maryland gets a running game going independent of early-down passes. I'm skeptical about the viability of either option, but when you're down to #4 on the depth chart at quarterback, you're making some sacrifices somewhere.
If it were me, I'd go back to what's become Maryland's mantra this season: they're playing with house money. Few thought they'd get to four wins; fewer thought they'd have a real chance at a bowl game; basically no one thought they'd do it after losing three starting quarterbacks. They only had three at the start of the year, for Juan's sake. I can think of worse plans than turning Rowe loose and letting him try to make plays. He's a gunslinger by trade; letting him gunsling a bit, with this defense backing him up and all the skill around him, could make for a highly interesting - if incredibly nerve-wracking - proposition.
We don't have to wait that much longer to find out. Like I said a few days ago, whichever way it turns out, at least you can't say the back stretch won't be interesting.