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Maryland's Quarterback Conundrum: Third Time's a Charm, Right?

It feels a bit ridiculous to talk about Maryland's ongoing quarterback controversy for yet another week, especially with all the other things going on inside Maryland football at the moment. But given that both Danny O'Brien and C.J. Brown saw playing time in last week's game against Boston College, Randy Edsall declined to name a starter, and the two are listed atop the depth chart at QB, we can't just ignore it.

Although I have to say we should probably stop calling it a "controversy." For it to be a controversy, I think there actually has to be some controversy, which involves people caring about the outcome. And at least for me, we're far past that point: with all of the other problems on the team, does it really matter which of the two starts? They're both talented and both are good enough to win, but they both have to deal with the same awful rushing defense, the same special teams units,  the same lack of big-play ability, the same inconsistent receivers, and the same inept coaching staff. That's a lot to overcome for any quarterback.

In other words: unlike most teams with QB controversies, the big problems on the team don't rest under center. This is really just a happy diversion.

But it's still an important happy diversion, especially because the short-term success or failure of whoever gets the nod from the coaching staff could go a ways toward determining the long-term direction of the offense.

By this point, I think you know the situation: Brown's the runner with a shady arm who "fits" the offense, while O'Brien is the passer with a great history who's severely struggled all year. Again, I'm sure you don't need me to tell you this, but I still will: Brown got the start last week; he went 2-6 with an interception; O'Brien came in; he also struggled; Maryland lost by a wide margin; Randy Edsall said he had planned to play both, though clearly not in the way he did; he stays mum on the quarterback situation. It's a story to which we're more than a little accustomed.

Brown, of course, has never possessed a great arm, and it's been one of the many handicapping factors for Maryland's offense over the past two weeks. I do think he's getting a bit of an unfair shake from many fans: he was good against Georgia Tech and great against Clemson, and then he ran into the brick wall that was the best, most athletic defense on Maryland's schedule (FSU) and struggled - though, might I add, not abjectly - against Boston College in the muck. The last two games weren't exactly gimmes.

For O'Brien's part, he replaced Brown midway through both of the last two but wasn't significantly better in either game: he was 5-20 against Boston College's first-team defense, and he was 7-16 against Florida State's first-team defense (both teams brought in subs late leading to late-game successes). Danny still has the arm to make every throw, but he's also making a wide array of mistakes, from underthrown balls to poor reads (the Luke Kuechly interception, particularly). Of course, it's impossible to completely judge his performance given the wide receivers' performance in recent weeks: if the receivers for Maryland could consistently catch the ball, his stats do look significantly better.

Thing is, that has to factor in: if Maryland's receivers can't catch the ball anyway, what point is there in airing it out 35 or 40 times a game, as they did the past two weeks? I'm still of the opinion that the running game needs to be Maryland's focus until defenses prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can stop it, and that's Brown's calling. (I still think he got too quick a hook in the BC game, in which Maryland shouldn't have thought about passing even 20 times, let alone actually doing it 41.)

Maryland is getting some reinforcements there, though, and it might be enough to convince the coaching staff to give the passing game another try. Kevin Dorsey is finally healthy after missing most of the past three games, and his return gives Maryland their premier wide receiver back. He was great through the early weeks, and was pretty easily Danny O'Brien's favorite target. Combine Dorsey with Matt Furstenburg at TE and the newly-emerged Quintin McCree at WR, and you have a decent - if shallow - three-man receiving bunch. If Adrian Coxson, who saw PT late last week and looked okay, gets some time and proves less drop-prone than Marcus Leak (of whom I'm still a big fan, by the way), it's a pretty solid group. That certainly plays more into Danny O'Brien's arm than it does C.J. Brown's legs.

Again, I think either QB is good enough to lead a team to win, but I don't think either is good enough to overcome everything there is to overcome here. Personally, I'd like to see Brown one more time when he isn't either in the pouring rain or against a insanely talented defense, but it's not something I'm married to, especially with Dorsey back in the mix.

Of course, there's always that third option: playing both, and not in the way that Edsall did last week. Brown is athletic enough to use either was a Wildcat QB, or, if you want to get really weird, he can moved around the field to wide receiver or running back like Kain Colter at Northwestern. I mentioned that last week; I didn't expect to see anything close to it then, and I don't expect to see anything close to it now.

This is the third time we've been in this spot. Each time, it's been Brown, not O'Brien, who got the start, and that's because the staff obviously prefers his athleticism in the scheme that they want to run. Like most coaches, they believe in their system, and want to play the guy who best fits it.

Thing is, the system obviously hasn't worked too well: Maryland is 85th in scoring offense nationally. So the question is quickly becoming more "How much confidence do they have in their scheme?" rather than "Who do they think is the better pure quarterback?" Because if they still think their scheme can and will be successful, I have trouble thinking they'll go with O'Brien.

The amount of playing time DOB has received in recent weeks, though, tells me that maybe, just maybe, the tide is turning in that regard, particularly from Edsall.

Forced to hazard a guess, I'd say Brown gets the start, mostly because if Brown fails, Crowton's scheme fails along with him, perhaps for good. That's not something Crowton is likely willing to swallow. But I'd say Brown has yet another short leash - and, if the offense struggles again, I'm not sure he (or it) gets another shot. Not, of course, that the offense struggling would necessarily be his fault, no more than it was with O'Brien, given the problems at receiver, on the line, and, most importantly, in the coaching booth.