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Maryland football's offense comes to life late against Michigan

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The Terps' offense had been slow for weeks, until, suddenly, it wasn't.

C.J. Brown, injured in the first half on Saturday, returned to lead Maryland on three critical drives in the fourth quarter.
C.J. Brown, injured in the first half on Saturday, returned to lead Maryland on three critical drives in the fourth quarter.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Through three quarters at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, the Maryland football team's offense had scored nine points. The Terps hadn't mustered two offensive touchdowns in a quarter since Sept. 27 at Indiana, and their per-play yardages had declined precipitously over several weeks beforehand. Then, in a flash, everything changed.

After a roughing-the-kicker call against Michigan extended a Maryland drive inside the Wolverines' red zone, quarterback C.J. Brown ran for an 8-yard score. The result was an 11-play, 68-yard drive in total. After Michigan's Matt Wile missed a field goal, Brown took the field for Maryland's next drive and guided Maryland 78 more yards over 10 more plays. Another touchdown followed, this one on a Wes Brown dive, and a 16-9 deficit had flipped to a 23-16 lead. The next time Maryland got the ball, a series of Wes Brown carries choked the clock until it read nothing but zeroes, and Maryland had managed its first ever win against Michigan, on college football's biggest physical stage.

"Any time you get a win, you're going to be happy regardless of the situation. You feel a little bit better knowing that the audience stepped up to the challenge," C.J. Brown said. He added, "We knew we needed to step up. The defense has been doing a great job, and we had not been pulling our slack. To be able to come out today and finish the game was huge for us."

Truly, it had been almost two months since Stefon Diggs and Brown scored two Maryland offensive touchdowns in one quarter. Aside from a one-week respite against Iowa in mid-October, Maryland's offensive futility had endured ever since, with Brown taking the bulk of the blame after a handful of inept-looking passing performances. A sixth-year senior, media members surrounded Brown this week and asked him how he felt that his head coach, Randy Edsall, had signaled a willingness to replace him with a quarterback several years his junior if Brown continued to fail. Brown answered those questions with words on Tuesday, then with a touchdown run and a 36-yard loft to Amba Etta-Tawo late in the game on Saturday.

Earlier, he had taken an ugly high hit and was dragged to the turf by his head or neck, causing him to stay down on the field for several minutes.

"He's a strong guy, and every Brown is," Wes Brown was saying afterward, laughing.

C.J. Brown finished with 165 yards on 13-of-24 passing. His raw rating was 112, virtually the same as it was when Brown was ridiculed for his performance against Michigan State a week prior. But Brown didn't make a single serious mistake all night, and his numbers were artificially deflated by five Maryland drops on what amounted to fine throws.

"I'm so happy for him," Edsall said. "As a quarterback and a head coach, we both get too much credit when we win and too much blame when we lose, and I know he's feeling good, and he should. He played a whale of a game."

Brown, the quarterback, was the star of Maryland's show on the winning drive. But Brown, the running back, finished that drive by plunging in from a yard out, then ensured Michigan's offense would get no more chances to even the score with a brutish, effective series of runs in the game's final moments. C.J. Brown put Maryland ahead, and Wes Brown – as much as anyone – made sure it would stay there after a late defensive stop. He was suspended for all of last season and only recently re-entered Maryland's starting lineup this year, but he put the final nails in the Wolverines' coffin.

"It was amazing," Wes Brown said, "but as I told the guys before, it was just a bigger stage for us to perform on, and to be out there and just executing everything we got to do, it was just a pleasure to be out there with the guys."