by JUSTIN FITZGERALD
The Maryland Terrapins came in to this season with a quarterback controversy but it looks like Caleb Rowe may have solved it for now. The redshirt junior started his first game in two years, going 21-33 for 297 yards with 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions leading the Terps to a 35-17 over South Florida.
In his first game as a starter, Rowe showed why he could keep the starting job for the rest of the season but also made fans question whether the job could eventually go to Daxx Garman or the team’s previous starting quarterback Perry Hills. Rowe has a much stronger arm than Hills, as he completed 9 yards per attempt compared to just 6 per attempt by Hills. Rowe also gives offensive coordinator Mike Locksley the ability to spread the field and add a vertical option to the passing game, a dimension that was not there with Hills at the helm. That dimension was on display at the end of the first quarter Saturday, as he hit Taivon Jacobs in stride down the sideline for a 70 yard touchdown.
A case can also be made to keep Rowe as a starter based on how effective Maryland’s red zone offense was on Saturday. The Terps scored touchdowns all three times they were in the red zone as compared to just twice on seven attempts with Hills as the starter. The ability to capitalize in the red zone will be crucial for Maryland going forward, as they will need to put up touchdowns since teams will carve up their mediocre defense.
Rowe became the first quarterback to throw four touchdowns since Danny O’Brien in 2010, but there were also many problems with his performance. While Hills’ biggest flaw was underthrowing receivers and not looking downfield enough, Rowe’s biggest flaw is that he tries to make plays when they are not there. Rowe threw three interceptions, all of which were poor decisions, one being from overthrown pass while the others being from not recognizing coverage.
Take Rowe’s third interception, for example. The quarterback rolled out to his right and looked to find Lavern Jacobs, but instead found South Florida’s Jamie Byrd. The throw was a poor decision by Rowe, who threw into double coverage with Byrd intercepting the pass and another South Florida defender shadowing Jacobs. A smarter quarterback should have looked for a safer option, and if that was not there, just throw it away. Rowe has a gunslinger mentality, which means he is willing to take risks when plays aren’t there. This can lead to stretches such as the one where Rowe threw three interceptions in his first six attempts of the season.
All three of Rowe’s interceptions came in South Florida territory, preventing the Terps from having more opportunities to score. Although it didn’t make a difference, Rowe will need to avoid these turnovers when they play teams with more offensive firepower than South Florida. Turnovers deep in opposing territory can kill a team’s momentum, especially late in the game. Interceptions deep in opponent territory, especially late in the game, will give opponents a chance to finish out the game against the Terps abysmal run defense, which gave up over 200 rushing yards per game last season.
Also, South Florida’s defense did not put a lot of pressure on Rowe, giving him more time to find open receivers. That certainly will not be the case for the next three games, as West Virginia, Ohio State, and Michigan are all top 25 ranked pass defenses. Five of Maryland’s final nine opponents (WVU, OSU, and Michigan included) all rank in the top 50 in total defense, and will make life much harder on Rowe.
Although Rowe passed the first test and proved to be more effective than Hills, I don’t think he has the starting job locked up for the rest of the season. He will face a much better defense this weekend against West Virginia, and this game will show whether Rowe is capable of holding the starting job. One single game is not enough to make judgments on a player, so if Rowe starts to play poorly, don’t be surprised if Garman or Hills take snaps at some point this season.