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Maryland football: Tracking C.J. Brown's big step forward against Syracuse

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By playing to his strengths and keeping things simple, C.J. Brown had his best game of the season against the Orange.

C.J. Brown didn't have to look far down the field against Syracuse.
C.J. Brown didn't have to look far down the field against Syracuse.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

C.J. Brown is a limited thrower. He doesn't have a rocket for an arm or pinpoint accuracy, so deep throws down the field will always be a challenge for him. But with Maryland's talented group of receivers and pass-catching tailbacks, Brown doesn't need to wind up and throw fastballs throughout games. Brown's passing numbers this season haven't been good, but we've made the case on more than one occasion that Brown could put together solid passing days just by executing on close passes and delivering the ball to some of his open-field playmakers.

Against Syracuse, Brown did exactly that. The result: 280 passing yards, two touchdowns and a 177.4 passer rating in total.

Using game film available via ESPN, I charted every Brown passing attempt against the Orange, classifying his throws by the distance they traveled (or were meant to travel, in the case of batted-down balls) from the line of scrimmage:

Throw Distance

Completions

Attempts

Yards

TD/INT

Rating

0-10 yards

14

18

209

1/0

193.6

11-20 yards

0

3

0

0/0

0

21-30 yards

0

0

0

0/0

0

> 30 yards

2

5

71

1/0

225.3

It's laid plain for all to see that Mike Locksley and Randy Edsall didn't ask Brown to make a lot of challenging throws. About 70 percent of Brown's passes traveled fewer than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage in the air, and Brown's wideouts, tailbacks and tight ends turned those plays into 209 yards for the Maryland offense. Brown was exceptionally lucky that his worst pass of the day flew directly into the chest of a Syrcause nose tackle, Eric Crume, who dropped an easy interception in the second half. That missed pick-off, along with the 90 yards of running Brandon Ross did on his first-quarter touchdown, made Brown's numbers look shinier than they'd have otherwise been.

Once Ross had the ball in his hands, his touchdown was primarily a master class in downfield receiver blocking:

Maryland had Brown throw a ton of little screens and swing passes against the Orange, and they worked out well. I classified seven of Brown's completions as screens or swing passes, which are the easiest passes for any quarterback to complete. Brown didn't miss a single throw on any of them, and the seven throws were worth more than 130 yards, including Ross's touchdown.

In Week 1 against James Madison, he was a paltry 8-for-15 on throws of fewer than 11 yards. In Week 3 against West Virginia, he was 16-for-26 with an interception. On both instances, I suggested Brown was in line for some positive regression on simple, short passes. Against Syracuse, Brown pulled things together and was solidly efficient from close range. His offensive line also held up much better against the pass rush, which couldn't have hurt.

Brown made exactly one great throw all day against Syracuse, a 25-yard touchdown strike to Marcus Leak that actually flew a full 31 yards away from the line of scrimmage. It was a perfect toss to a well-covered Leak. Brown only completed one more pass of more than 10 yards: an extraordinary catch from Leak on a distinctly decent deep ball that could have been either caught or intercepted. Leak, supremely talented, made a play that put his talents on full display:

(Via Jake Russell)

Brown brings a lot to the Terrapins. He's a strong running threat and holds five prior years of experience in the program. He's never been a classic gunslinger, and he isn't now. With a talented stable of skill position players around him, he doesn't have to be. Brown made the simple passes against Syracuse and let the other 10 men on offense do the rest of the work. Going forward, that might be all Maryland needs him to do.