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Maryland, Rutgers will only go as far as quarterbacks take them

Maryland and Rutgers have surprised a few folks around Big Ten territory, especially those who have never paid attention to the two programs before this season. See, both enter Week 4 of the college football season as nearly undefeated teams. Imagine what we’d be talking about had the Terps beat West Virginia or Rutgers opened up Big Ten play with a home win over Penn State?

Those two scenarios didn’t play out that way last week, and instead the two newcomers have slithered in to the background of the Big Ten conversation. However, dismissing them after one loss isn’t the wisest of decisions.

Both teams have proven they have the talent to compete at the Big Ten level, which was the biggest question most had entering the season. What seems to be missing for both is consistent play from the quarterback position.

Last week was a microcosm of the constant problem that has held the Terps and Scarlet Knights back over the past few years. Rutgers’ Gary Nova went 15-of-30 for 192 yards and threw five interceptions in the 13-10 loss to Penn State, while Maryland’s C.J. Brown went 19-of-35 for 241 yards with one touchdown and one interception.  He also rushed for 161 yards and one touchdown.

It wasn’t exactly a banner day for the two signal callers when it came to connecting in the pass game, which is frustrating because both have proven at times to be more than capable passing quarterbacks in the past.

Nova went 15-of-19 for 282 yards and four touchdowns passing against Howard in Week 2, and

His major issue has been decision-making, so much so that last season he went from start to the bench for the final three games. Nova has 11 multi-interception games in 36 career games, with just 13 games without a single interception in that same time frame.

With a schedule as daunting as Rutgers faces in the Big Ten this season it’s clear that Nova needs to have the light go on in terms of decision-making. That’s something head coach Kyle Flood is looking for from his senior signal caller, whose confidence doesn’t appear shaken after his second-highest interception game of his career.

“I don’t think Gary lacks confidence,” sad Flood at his weekly press conference. “I think he’ll practice well this week.  I think he’ll be ready to go on Saturday.  Gary knows he needs to do a better job managing the game, making decisions, but I don’t think confidence will be an issue.”

However, one has to wonder how long Flood and the Scarlet Knights will stick with Nova if this pattern continues. After all, he is a senior and if he hasn’t figured out how to be a good decision maker in the pass game then he likely never will.

In Brown’s case, he’s likely entrenched as the starting quarterback because he’s become the best running back the Terps have. Through three games he has 219 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per game. All three happen to be the best on the Terps, so taking your best run option out of the game isn’t a wise choice in the Big Ten.

However, come Big Ten play there needs to be a multi-dimensional offense presented. Teams that are one-dimensional don’t typically do well come conference play — just ask Indiana before it found Tevin Coleman or Michigan from the last few years.

Considering the Big Ten schedules ahead for both teams, how these two progress in the pass game is going to determine how big of a role they’ll play in the Big Ten East race.

Even OK quarterback play will do for two teams that can run the football relatively competently. However, without quick improvement from both Brown and Nova, both teams are going to ultimately struggle to be competitive in Big Ten play.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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