Terps Trio: Maryland vs. West Virginia, Danny O'Brien and Kam Williams

September 21, 2012

Baltimore Sun reporters Jeff Barker and Don Markus and editor Matt Bracken weigh in on the three biggest topics of the past week in Maryland  sports.

What is the mood of Maryland's football program heading to West Virginia on Saturday as a four-touchdown underdog?

Jeff Barker: I’m certain Maryland appreciates the magnitude of its task Saturday -- to try to hang with a Top 10 program boasting one of the nation’s most prolific offenses.

The Mountaineers are averaging 612 yards of offense through their first two games. That’s just ridiculous.

But the coaches and players around Gossett Football Team House seem to have a different attitude about playing such challenging games this season. They don’t seem to be in a funk, as some were in 2011 during that season-ending, eight-game losing streak.

It’s not that they are satisfied yet with who they are or how this year is going. It’s that they are realistic. They have a freshman quarterback and a dozen more true freshmen on the two-deep depth chart, including special teams. They have new offensive and defensive coordinators this season.

The sense around Maryland’s program is that this a long-term process of trying to build a program back up.

What fans will need to judge is whether there is indeed something being created in College Park -- whether the program is headed in the right direction. Whether it's going anywhere.

Are coaches getting maximum effort from the players? Are the players learning and improving? Is the recruiting sufficient to keep the team moving forward? Is the team more united than last season, when it seemed split between Edsall guys and Friedgen holdovers?

These aren’t always easy items to judge. But that -- as well as wins and losses -- is what I think you’ve got to assess as the season rolls on.

Did Danny O'Brien make a mistake leaving Maryland?

Don Markus: Three weeks ago, after Danny O'Brien completed 19 of 23 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns for Wisconsin in a season-opening win over Northern Iowa, I was among many who figured the former Maryland quarterback made a great move going to Madison.

Two weeks ago, after O'Brien and the Badgers struggled mightily in a 10-7 loss at Oregon State, I started to have my doubts that what seemed like a perfect marriage between a talented quarterback looking for a new team and a perennial Big Ten contender looking for someone to replace Russell Wilson had suddenly left the honeymoon phase.

Last Saturday night, as I watched O'Brien get benched at halftime after his second fumble in as many weeks and nearly his second interception, then saw his backup, redshirt freshman Joel Stave,  help the Badgers overcome a fourth-quarter deficit and survive when Utah State missed a last-second field goal, I started thinking that O'Brien had made a mistake leaving College Park.

O'Brien had a tough job trying to take over for Wilson, who had nearly a perfect season in his one-year career at Wisconsin (after playing three at N.C. State). Look at where Wilson is now: starting for the Seattle Seahawks after getting drafted in the third round last spring.

The reason O'Brien went to Wisconsin rather than Penn State was to play for a Big Ten championship and go to a Rose Bowl or some other BCS game, maybe even get a shot at a national championship. The reason he went to play for the Badgers rather than Vanderbilt was that his starting job seemed nearly assured.

And now?

It appears as if O'Brien will be getting another chance when the Badgers host Texas-El Paso at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday. But it could be his last chance, and he will be going out there on a very short rope.

First-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada, himself under some pressure after replacing Paul Chryst (now the head coach at Pittsburgh), hinted that O'Brien could be back in the starting lineup but made it clear that he can't keep turning the ball over.

"I don't think that is anything I've ever been a part of, and I don't think that is anything coach [Brett Bielema] has been a part of, having a quick trigger and have guys worry," Canada told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal.

But he also said, "You can't put the ball on the ground. You can't turn the ball over."

O'Brien knows all about looking over his shoulder. He seemed to do that most of last season, the first time coming after throwing a bad interception late in the game against West Virginia that ended Maryland's comeback.

But from what I saw last season at Maryland, and from what I saw in watching much of the Oregon State game and part of the Utah State game, I started thinking that maybe O'Brien was the ACC's top freshman quarterback two years ago because of Torrey Smith.

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