COLLEGE PARK -- With senior Caleb Rowe starting at quarterback for the first time this season, Maryland’s offense awoke from a deep slumber on Saturday in a 35-17 victory over South Florida at Byrd Stadium in College Park.
Though prone to turnovers at times, Rowe ignited a passing attack that spread the ball around to nine different receivers on his way to a 21-of-33 passing day for 297 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions.
Freshman tight end Avery Edwards was the beneficiary of two of those touchdowns. Those two touchdowns are twice as many as all Maryland tight ends caught combined all of last season.
Here are five things you need to know.
1) Bad out of the gate, but Rowe hits his stride
Caleb Rowe’s first drive under center ended with an overthrown pass and an interception. But he hit his stride as the first half went along.
But one thing was clear -- this offense is more productive with Rowe under center.
For the first time this season, defenses had to be mindful of the threat of the deep ball, which Rowe unleashed on first-half passes of 70 yards (to Taivon Jacobs for a TD) and 49 yards (to Levern Jacobs down inside the five-yard line).
By early in the third quarter, Rowe had three touchdowns and Maryland held a 28-10 lead. Rowe became the first Maryland quarterback to throw for four touchdowns since Danny O’Brien against NC State in 2010.
2) The turnover concern will persist, though
With the gunslinging Rowe comes the turnover-prone Rowe, too. The senior threw three interceptions on Saturday, though one turned out to be more or less innocuous (described below).
There were times that South Florida did not take advantage of the turnovers, which won’t be the case when higher-level opponents come to town.
3) Wes Brown ejected
With close to 10 minutes to play in the second quarter, USF’s pass rush got to Rowe and he threw the ball up for grabs. It was intercepted by defensive back Deatri Nichols.
As Nichols returned it, he began going down near the 28-yard line. Maryland running back Wes Brown came in to make the tackle, but led with his helmet and made contact with Nichols near his head.
He was flagged for targeting. The play was reviewed. Brown was ejected after carrying the ball just once for three yards. Read more on the incident here.
4) Defense given a fighting chance and shows what it can do
It’s stunning to see the secondary benefit the defense enjoys when the offense can get momentum going.
Last week against Bowling Green, the defense was on the field for 63 percent of the game against a fast-paced spread offense. They eventually wore down, which led to the 700-yard BGSU performance.
Saturday, the time of possession game was nearly even and the defense benefitted from it.
They had the right mix of pressure on dual-threat quarterback Quinton Flowers while still containing him and not allowing him to extend drives with his legs.
Sean Davis had as big a bounce-back game as one could hope for. After being torched vs. Bowling Green, he had two interceptions and a forced fumble.
5) USF makes change at quarterback in-game
South Florida was ripping up Maryland’s front. They had just come off a 17-play touchdown drive that trimmed the Maryland lead to 28-17 just before the start of the fourth quarter.
But after a Maryland three-and-out, backup Steven Bench came in at quarterback. It was unclear if there was an injury to Flowers (he would eventually return) but that stalled drive buried the Bulls.
USF appeared to be making progress, but a hands-to-the-face penalty pushed them back. That led to a Bench interception -- that was negated by a roughing the passer penalty on Maryland. Bench would throw another interception shortly after to Davis.
Maryland would score on the next drive to push the lead to 35-17.