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Maryland football: Examining C.J. Brown's Week 1 performance and where he can improve

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Against James Madison, the Terrapins' quarterback was great on the ground but not through the air. A deeper look at his day and how the Terps say they'll move forward in the passing game.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Terrapins beat James Madison by 45 points on Saturday, and afterward Randy Edsall gushed about the play of his quarterback, sixth-year senior C.J. Brown, saying he "couldn't be more proud" of Brown's effort. But Brown's day (as he went to lengths to point out) was a bit more complicated than the gaudy scoreline indicated, as he completed only 11 of 24 passes for 111 yards and one score. He was excellent on the ground, but not nearly up to par through the air.

Using game tape from the Big Ten Network, I mapped every pass Brown threw on non-penalty plays against James Madison, wondering if his bad completion percentage (46 percent overall) was the result of throwing a lot of deep balls, suffering too many drops or just not executing his throws. Like in so many cases, it turns out, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Brown was bad as a passer, but there's reason to think his shortcomings against JMU were merely a blip.

Brown's splits by throw yardage in the first week:

Throw Distance

Completions

Attempts

Percentage

Yards

0-10 yards

8

15

53

43

11-20 yards

2

3

67

27

21-30 yards

0

2

0

0

31-50 yards

1

4

25

41 (TD)

A fuller accounting, with details on each play pegged to the linked video: C.J. Brown's yardages against James Madison.

Given their inherent difficulty, it is normal to not complete a high percentage of long passes. But Brown had lousy numbers on short balls, too. Yet of his seven incompletions on throws of fewer than 10 yards, two were throw-aways under duress, or at least balls intentionally angled toward the sideline with little chance of being caught by a player in either jersey. Another two were drops by Jacquille Veii and Brandon Ross. Three of the sub-10-yard incompletions came on legitimately terrible throws from Brown: bounced screens to Ross and Stefon Diggs and a misfire to Veii in the second half that should have been intercepted.

"We can't shoot ourselves in the foot," Brown said. "Not making stupid decisions and just being more careful with the ball" would be high priorities going forward.

But given Brown's track record and his stable of tight ends and wideouts, it would be a shock if he didn't have better numbers on close throws going forward, which would make his overall passing numbers look a lot cleaner. It is a matter of execution. And if the passing game does suffer, Maryland is comfortable making some alterations.

"We always try to be a balanced offense, but some days when you have a game plan, it doesn't always go the way you would like them to go," Edsall said Tuesday. "You have to adjust. Similarly to a pitcher, you might want to throw a fastball, but you're having control problems, you may have to go to the curve or the change-up. Last week, we weren't having so much success in the passing game, so that's when we decided to run the ball more. We want to be balanced and take advantage of all the opportunities and weapons we have."

Where Brown is less certain to improve, in my estimation, is on long throws. He has never had the reputation of a gunslinger, and indeed, he only completed one pass of more than 20 yards on Saturday (to be fair, a beautiful touchdown strike to Deon Long). Even if Brown isn't great at throwing the deep ball, he still has Diggs and Long at his disposal, giving him two of the more formidable deep threats in college football.

Three of Brown's 20-plus-yard incompletions against James Madison were on overthrows: a 43-yard shot for Marcus Leak, a 31-yarder to Amba Etta-Tawo and a 24-yarder to Long that had little chance of being caught. With Diggs and Long running them down, and a group of several other fleet-footed wideouts that includes the newly repositioned Will Ulmer, some of those overthrows should morph into home run completions over time. That sort of speed, in theory, can only be overthrown so many times.

Brown said the presence of his two blue-chip wideouts makes him more likely to stick to throwing the deep ball.

"Absolutely," he said. "You got to have a quick memory."