Saturday's football game highlighted a BIG team that was methodical, unflashy, physical, and in control of both sides of the line. And Iowa was there too.
In a high-stakes, temperature-taking type of game, Maryland thoroughly handled visiting Iowa, 38-31, in a game that was probably a little more decisive than the final score indicates.
The Terps, now 5-2, 2-1 in the B1G, picked up easily their best win of the season over a 5-1 conference team that seems to be in bowl games each and every year. Maryland faced some adversity — a very slow start and a scary looking injury to C.J. Brown — and simply handled business at home in front of a big, robust crowd full of Iowa fans who may have enjoyed their first football trip to the DMV but most certainly did not enjoy getting stung by the new kids on the block.
The Terps got a late scare when Iowa, trailing by 17, scored and recovered an onside kick to make things a little more interesting than anyone would've liked, but Maryland ultimately withstood one final Hawkeye possession and picked up a huge victory.
Maryland fans got a pregame gut punch when it was announced that Caleb Rowe was out for the season with a torn ACL. Then the on-field activities started equally ghoulish when the suddenly undisputed quarterback, C.J. Brown, threw a downright awful interception on what appeared to be an intended quick slant on the first play from scrimmage.
Moments later, Mark Weisman rumbled untouched through a highway-sized hole to put the Hawkeyes in the end zone and up 7-0 only two minutes into the game.
Maryland moved the ball pretty effectively on its first non-turnover drive, but it died just inside the 50 after Brown, under the heaviest of pressure, tossed a picture-perfect bomb into the waiting arms of Marcus Leak near the goal line, but Leak dropped it. That was that, the Terps punted, Iowa gained 54 yards on a short pass on its very next play, and the game was officially off to an awful start for the home team. That sentiment was punctuated shortly thereafter, when Iowa, lacking a good FG kicking game, converted a 4th-and-5 inside the red zone, then scored again when Jake Rudock hit wide-open tight end Henry Krieger Coble for a short-pass TD and a 14-0 lead.
Then, finally, the Terps arrived. On a 75-yard drive highlighted by a 19-yard Brown keeper and several short passes, Jacquille Veii took a handoff, bounced outside and darted 23 yards to the house, making it 14-7 Hawkeyes only 12 minutes in. So much for a low-scoring game.
Maryland's defense, seizing on the sudden momentum, got its first stop on Iowa's next possession, fueled by a back-to-back sack and tackle-for-loss by Andre Monroe (with a little help from Keith Bowers on the TFL).
The Terps caught their first break a couple series later when the Hawkeyes coughed up the football at the tail end of a pass play. The Terps took over, despite being backed up 15 yards on the take-away by a silly Anthony Nixon unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The Terps drove the field on a drive that featured a nice hookup from Brown to Diggs, then marched out Brad Cradd-omatic (No? Whatever, I took a shot. The young man needs a nickname), who split the uprights from 41 to cut the lead to 14-10. The momentum was officially swinging, and it swung further when the Terp D got a quick stop aided by a great backfield tackle from the big fella, Darius Kilgo. It forced Iowa into a poor punt and gave the Terps great field position and a chance to take their first lead and fully recover from their early misfires.
That's precisely what happened. C.J. Brown, looking quite sharp, marched Maryland down the field and then escaped for a dazzling run that finished on the Hawkeye 1. Then, as if to almost prove a point about physicality, Maryland got into an I-type formation and sent Wes Brown into the heart of the Iowa D. Love to see that. Brown pushed through and Maryland had its first lead, 17-14. Game on!
Then Good CJB converted back into Bad CJB just before the half, squandering a great opportunity for Maryland to grab the reins of the game. In Iowa territory with less than a minute to go, BCJB tried to throw about four picks in a row. With Craddock getting loose on the sideline, BCJB finally tossed a can't-miss INT right into the chest of Iowa's Sean Draper, who gets credit for the pick but will forever regret never making a play for Christina Hendricks if he doesn't take her home at least once in the final season of Mad Men. I've never understood that about Sean Draper. The dude has slept with every female either inside or outside office except for the intensely voluptuous and ever-available Joanie? Makes no sense. Oh, wait, that's DON Draper. Sorry. Back to football.
Disaster struck when play resumed in the third quarter. I'm not even going to use the dreaded acronym, because Maryland's history with quarterback injuries is beyond cute or funny at this point, but C.J. Brown took a vicious and dirty hit (unflagged). He stayed down on the field for a long and uncomfortable amount of time, then left with what appeared to be concussion symptoms. That's two QBs out in one day. Who does that happen to other than Maryland? Unreal.
Anyway, enter Perry Hills, who we last saw as a true freshman thrust into action way before his time. Hills faced some pretty scary pressure in his first few snaps deep in Terp territory and threw a couple bad balls, but Maryland was aided by an Iowa fumble and won back some important field position, putting out the immediate fire.
A few minutes -- and another defensive stand -- later, and C.J. Brown, presumably cleared by the medical staff, was warming up on the sidelines. Terrific news. More terrific news: Perry Hills began to warm up and execute, driving the Terps 92-yards, including a couple solid throws and a really nice scramble for a first down. Then Hills found Stefon Diggs on a WR screen for a 53-yard touchdown. Suddenly, after what appeared to be the worst-case scenario had happened, Maryland now had a double-digit lead, 24-14. It had officially turned into a roller coaster of a game.
And, like clockwork, the roller coaster dipped on Iowa's next drive, the Hawkeyes' best drive in a long time, which ended with Weisman's second rush-TD to cut Maryland's lead to 24-21.
The big question was, who was going to be Maryland's QB after the ensuing kickoff? It was Hills. CJB was repeatedly shown helmet-free on the sideline, an indication that he was probably done for the day (update: he later returned). But, on the upside, the fact that he was back out there at all, as well as his body language, tells us that he's probably going to be OK. Hills missed a couple passes in his third and fourth drives, however, and the Terps punted it away both times after some understandably conservative play-calling.
Just when we fans were being lulled to sleep, however, Will Likely woke us the F*** up. Likely jumped an ill-conceived Jake Rudock pass and Took. It. To. The. House. 31-21 Terps, thank you very much. Will Likely continues to be one of those guys who is always in the right place and has a knack for huge plays. This was definitely one of those moments and it gave the offense-challenged Terps a much-needed cushion. That cushion grew even further a few minutes later, when Wes Brown pounded it in on 4th-and-goal for his second 1-yard TD of the day and a 38-21 lead.
The Terps needed every inch of that big lead, because Iowa found its offense in the waning minutes of the game against a Maryland defense that was probably a little too conservative or maybe just tired. The Hawkeyes got a quick score, then recovered an onside kick, drove again and converted a field goal to make it a 38-31 game with 1:19 to play.
It led to another very uncomfortable onside kick attempt, which P.J. Gallo easily pounced on. Iowa had all of its timeouts remaining, setting up a final possession with a minute left and no timeouts, but the Hawkeyes couldn't get a drive rolling and turned it over on downs, ending the game.
Four things we learned
1. Hello again, Perry Hills: Meet Maryland's latest quarterback to see action. He has decent mobility, he's a respected guy, he is maddeningly inconsistent at throwing the ball (or maybe just not good), he has shown the ability to win games, but much of the fan base is opposed to him because of his limited skill set. Sound familiar? I'll be honest, I always liked Perry Hills and thought he deserved better than being buried on the depth chart after some really gutsy performances back when he was a true freshman and had no business being on the field. To be clear, losing C.J. Brown to what first looked like another concussion (on another dirty hit) is bad for Maryland football and even worse for C.J. Brown, who has endured so much in his Maryland career, accomplished a lot, and just deserved better than another head injury. But Hills is a gritty guy and I've always thought he showed the potential to be one of those QBs who just is tough and finds a way to win even if he's not that much of a physical match for the position. Nice to see him get some snaps and move the football. Maybe the Terps' quarterback situation, with Hills as the new backup, isn't as bad as we feared.
2. Maryland's offensive line is getting better every week: The 14-0 early deficit was a function of a bad interception, a dropped bomb and a couple of poor defensive series. Playing against a respected Iowa DL, Greg Studrawa's gang generally gave C.J. Brown time to throw, blocked well on the read option, and opened the door for some solid runs by Ross and Veii. Early in the second quarter, at the goal line, the Terps got into something resembling a power-I, busted Wes Brown up the middle and rammed it in, again, against one of those beefy B1G lines that were supposed to be too much for Maryland. If Studrawa can pull off redshirting his best physical specimens, Derwin Gray and Damian Prince, while developing the resident guys (who nobody was excited about), then the future of Maryland's OL unit will start to take on a decidedly positive tone. I checked at one point in the third quarter and Maryland was averaging 6.2 yards per carry on 29 touches and was out-rushing Iowa 180-71. Gotta give credit where it's due, folks. We're tough on the line when they struggle, but Saturday they played a team best known for line play and won the matchup.
3. Strong showing for the defense, especially in the front and back: Forget the final score for just a moment please, because things got weird in the last 5 minutes. Before that, Darius Kilgo, Andre Monroe and Keith Bowers had a nice day against what was supposed to be a superior Iowa OL unit led by a top-10 NFL prospect in Brandon Scherff. Even Roman Braglio got penetration and played part in a big fourth-quarter sack that ended a drive. Maryland repeatedly found their way into the backfield and sacked Rudock several times while collected a few other tackles for loss. Then, on the back end of the defense, Iowa receivers were virtually non-existent throughout the day until Maryland got way too comfortable late in the 4th quarter. Rudock found some success attacking Maryland's linebackers, but couldn't hit on the deep ball and was stung by the sensational Will Likely for a pick-6. There were other times where those aforementioned sacks by the DL were the direct result of great coverage. Rudock would look, look and look, find nothing, and get swallowed up by the pass rush. So kudos to Likely, Jeremiah Johnson, Jarrett Ross, Josh Woods, Sean Davis, Anthony Nixon and whoever else may have contributed on the back end. Good day.
4. Maryland is more than capable of competing — and then some — in its new conference: Forget the loss to Ohio State. I struggled with that just like so many of you did, but, as Andrew Emmer summed up quite nicely in a basketball piece last week, the Terps "were always going to lose" that one. This game was a better state-of-the-union moment, so to speak. In came Iowa, a traditional, beefy B1G program that is always in bowl games. A team with a 5-1 record and a 2-0 conference start. An honest to goodness Big Ten staple. Not the best, far from the worst. Maryland thumped the Hawkeyes, even more than the score showed. They dominated both sides of the lines, they ran it better, they threw it better, they defended better. And that's even with a crushing QB injury that cost Maryland their only experienced quarterback for a big chunk of the game. Eight weeks into its B1G career, Maryland is now 5-2, 2-1 in the conference, and has played two traditionally strong programs. We're here, we're game, we're not going away. So let's pack our bags and head off to Cheese Country. Bring it on, Badgers.