COLLEGE PARK — On a sunny day at Byrd Stadium — with his team rolling up 576 yards in its most lopsided opening-day victory in 38 years — Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown could finally put behind him all of the months of recovery from a knee injury that ended his 2012 season before it could begin.
Brown, a fifth-year senior who hadn’t thrown a pass in a game since Nov. 26, 2011, ran the read-option to near perfection and effectively answered questions about his ability to resume a promising career that was interrupted by a torn anterior cruciate ligament in August 2012.
In the Terps’ 43-10 victory over Florida International, Brown completed 20 of 23 passes for 281 yards and ran for 105 more before departing in the third quarter. He accounted for more touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) than any Maryland quarterback since Scott McBrien’s six in 2003. The Terps scored 40 points in the first half.
It was Maryland’s biggest winning margin to open a season since a 41-0 victory over Villanova in 1975. The victory snapped a six-game losing streak dating from last season.
Surrounded by media members as he iced his right arm afterward, Brown seemed to be sweating more from the television lights than he had from facing Florida International’s defense.
“You want to put the past behind us,” Brown said, speaking not only of his injury but of Maryland’s 6-18 record in the past two seasons. “I guess you could say it’s kind of a fresh start.”
Brown is the first Maryland quarterback to lead the team in rushing and passing in a game since Shaun Hill in the 2002 Orange Bowl. Maryland had not topped 500 yards of offense since 2005.
Brown said he was eager to continue his career, but was no longer nervous after the first series.
“I saw his dad [former Michigan State quarterback Clark Brown] at the hotel before the game,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. “I think his dad was more nervous than C.J. I thought C.J. was very good. I wouldn’t say outstanding because there were a few reads he could’ve done better with. I’m just thrilled for the young man ... to be able to come back.”
It was evident early that Florida International — one of the youngest teams in the nation — would not compete with the Terps. The overmatched Golden Panthers, who lost their entire corps of offensive linemen and running backs from last season, have a new coach (Ron Turner) and a new league (Conference USA).
Florida International quarterback Jake Medlock only completed 5 of 15 passes for 26 yards and was replaced by E.J. Hilliard in the third quarter.
“I was mad,” Medlock said. “I know why he did it. They let E.J. get some reps.”
Maryland scored on its first four possessions — the first time it accomplished that since 2010 against Wake Forest.
Brown, who also suffered a season-ending injury in 2010, said he watched the Washington Redskins’ Robert Griffin III on television last season and studied the quarterback’s reads and ball fakes in order to improve his own play in the read-option.
Brown’s first big moment came when he rolled left and outran the Panthers’ defense for a 29-yard touchdown to put the Terps up, 13-3, with 5:50 left in the first quarter. After chest-bumping several teammates, he jogged to the Maryland sideline with a wide grin on his face.
Six seconds into the second quarter, Brown found wide receiver Deon Long for a 25-yard scoring pass — the first Maryland touchdown for the junior-college transfer — to extend the lead to 20-3.
Long, who had nine catches for 110 yards, said the defense was focused on slot receiver Stefon Diggs on the touchdown.
Before the game, Diggs had been Maryland’s first player to leap into the student section — a team tradition. Diggs’ five receptions included a 66-yard touchdown in the second quarter on a blown coverage by Florida International. With no one around Diggs, he stumbled after the catch but managed to keep his feet.
“There was a little wet spot on the field,” Diggs said. “I knew my teammates would make fun of me if I slipped.”
The Golden Panthers did not have a first down until about four minutes into the second quarter. Maryland held the Florida International to 171 yards and nine first downs.
It’s the second year for Maryland’s 3-4 defense, and cornerback Dexter McDougle said players understand the system better than in 2012.
“You’re not thinking,” McDougle said. “You’re out there just playing.”