The Maryland football team has struggled on third downs all season. For a second, at the start of the fourth quarter against Michigan on Saturday, it looked like those struggles would curse them again.
The Terps trailed, 16-9. On a third down-and-12 play from Michigan's 17-yard line, C.J. Brown threw for Jacquille Veii on a crossing route nearly the goal line. Veii was well-covered, the ball fell incomplete and Brad Craddock came on to make a 35-yard field goal. But a personal foul – roughing the kicker – on Michigan's Jourdan Lewis – nullified the field goal and gave Brown another shot. On the next play, Brown kept the ball for an 8-yard touchdown run.
On Maryland's next possession, his 36-yard strike to Amba Etta-Tawo keyed a game-winning drive that culminated with Wes Brown's 1-yard touchdown drive. The Terps took a 23-16 lead on that Brown run with 5:59 to play. They would not relinquish it, holding on to win by that same score before a crowd of 101,717 at Michigan Stadium.
Brad Craddock kicked three field goals for Maryland, putting him at a perfect 17-of-17 on the season. Will Likely had his sixth interception, leading to one of those field goals in the first half.
Maryland's offense had more success moving the ball than it had in weeks, but the Terps had to overcome a bevy of self-inflicted wounds. Maryland's first drive died because of a Jacquille Veii drop over the middle. Maryland's second drive ended because of another Veii drop, also over the middle. The third possession died because of another central-field drop, this one by fill-in receiver Daniel Adams. And on the Terps' fourth drive to start the game, a Derrick Hayward drop near the goal line forced the Terps into a chip shot field goal rather than a touchdown. Later on, a Deon Long drop stymied another offensive possession.
C.J. Brown had his best game in well over a month. After a career-worst stretch that seemed to reach bottom a week earlier, Brown completed 13 of 24 passes for 165 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Those numbers would have been exponentially better had it not been for the five drive-killing drops on the part of his receivers and tight end. Brown's 8-yard touchdown run, which knotted the score at 16 apiece just after the start of the fourth quarter, gave him the university's all-time total touchdowns record.
Their offensive drops hurt Maryland, as did sloppy maintenance on special teams. The Terps napped on a 52-yard direct snap fake after Michigan's punt team came on after a third-down stop in the first quarter, and the Wolverines converted it into three points. The Terps nearly blocked the ensuing field goal, but Matt Wile's boot glanced off a Maryland hand and through the uprights. Maryland narrowly avoided a disaster later on, when an out-of-the-way block in the back nullified a Dennis Norfleet punt return score for Michigan.
Ultimately, Brown's heroics in the fourth quarter put Maryland over the top. In their first try in two decades, the Terps left Michigan Stadium with a win in tow.