Aug. 1, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
CHICAGO -- Maryland defensive back Jeremiah Johnson has never been to Madison but he has a Wisconsin connection in Danny O’Brien and a YouTube reference point for “Jump Around,” which should serve him well when the Terrapins show up at Camp Randall Stadium in late October.
“I know they have a lot of tradition,” said Johnson, a senior from Forestville, Maryland. “I know the stadium is huge. I know the fans are going to be loud. I know that they’re known as a physical team, like many other teams in this conference. And I know they usually have a good backfield and front line.”
He also knows that the aforementioned O’Brien had a bittersweet experience as Wisconsin’s quarterback during the 2012 season after transferring from Maryland. “He was my boy,” gushed Johnson. “I was rooting for him when he went out there but obviously it didn’t work out.”
In 2010, Johnson was redshirting as a true freshman when O’Brien, then a redshirt freshman, was Maryland’s starting quarterback. After throwing for 2,438 yards -- including 22 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions -- O’Brien was named the ACC’s Rookie of the Year.
“Had a great year,” Johnson said. “That really put him on the map.”
The Terrapins won nine games but it wasn’t enough to save 63-year-old coach Ralph Friedgen, who was fired during an awkward sequence in which the school wanted him to retire after Maryland’s coach-in-waiting, James Franklin, bolted for Vanderbilt.
(Franklin is now the head coach at Penn State and Friedgen the offensive coordinator at Rutgers).
Randy Edsall took over the program in 2011 and opted to go in another direction at quarterback after the sixth game by replacing O’Brien with C.J. Brown, then a redshirt sophomore. O’Brien regained the starting assignment late in the year, but he ended up breaking his arm against Notre Dame.
That was the backdrop for O’Brien’s transfer to Wisconsin. After starting the first three games for the Badgers -- taking over the offense from the previous year’s transfer, Russell Wilson -- O’Brien lost his job to Joel Stave.
O’Brien eventually decided to use his final year of college eligibility at Division II Catawba College (Salisbury, North Carolina), where he completed 68 percent of his passes and threw for 2,490 yards in 2013. O’Brien is currently on the roster of the Ottawa RedBlacks of the Canadian Football League.
“We’ve talked about his playing days at Wisconsin,” said Brown, who was also in Chicago this week for the Big Ten’s Media Days. “I haven’t specifically asked him (O’Brien) about the differences (in style of play in the Big Ten and ACC) or if it’s that much different. But it will all be new and exciting.”
On what he does know about his new league, Brown said, “There’s a lot of history, it’s rich in tradition, big power football, fans that are enthusiastic and loyal to their teams, people who care about the game. They know their football and they understand what it means, they’re diehard fans.”
Maybe no one was more excited about Maryland’s move from the ACC to the Big Ten than Brown’s father, Clark Brown, a former Michigan State quarterback in the early ’80s (George Perles was just putting his mark on the MSU program and Nick Saban was his defensive coordinator back then).
“My dad was excited for me,” C.J. Brown said, “because he knows the culture of the Big Ten Conference and what it means. He knows the rivalries; he knows how the fans react. And he’s excited that I’m going to get to experience that. I’m sure he will cherish me going against his alma mater.”
On Nov. 15, the Terrapins will play host to Michigan State at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium. By then, the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Brown hopes to have established himself as one of the leading dual-threat quarterbacks in the Big Ten. From a seniority perspective, he’s Maryland’s Curt Phillips.
Phillips just completed his sixth year at Wisconsin after enduring three ACL surgeries. Brown, who recently turned 23, will enters his sixth year at Maryland. He broke his collarbone in the 2010 opener (which opened the door for O’Brien) and he tore his ACL in August of 2012.
“If you ask me about the Big Ten,” Rutgers’ Flood said, “the first word that jumps into my mind is physicality … I see a tremendous marriage.”
Last season, Brown showed what he can do when healthy. He passed for 2,242 yards, rushed for 576 and was named the team’s MVP. He has run for over 100 yards in a single game seven times. “He’s definitely our vocal leader, he takes control of the huddle,” Johnson said.
Brown and Johnson both know that the Terrapins have some questions to answer in the Big Ten. “Can they compete? Do they belong?” Brown said. “That has been the biggest thing that we have been getting questioned about. I know that we’re excited to prove people wrong.”
At last Tuesday’s Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon, Brown made quite a fashion statement with his bright red trousers. Not that anyone should be surprised since he was only staying in character with Maryland’s colorful, gaudy collection of uniforms and helmets.
“They can definitely be a little flashy,” conceded Johnson. “Sometimes we don’t know what we’re wearing until the night before the game. It gives us a sense of pride.”
That was a word that Johnson used frequently in describing the Terps.
“Maryland football is all about pride, it’s as simple as I can put it,” he said. “We have a lot of pride in our state; we have a lot of pride in our program. That shows everywhere we go and every time we’re carrying that (state) flag on the field -- we wave it high and we wave it with pride.”
Fear Testudo. “Obviously turtles are protected by shells,” Johnson said of the Maryland mascot. “It’s kind of like what we feel about our state. We’re very prideful and we pride ourselves on protecting what we represent. For us, the Big Ten is a very exciting transition into something new.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of trying to prove anything. We have a sense of our goals as a team and we feel like we can beat every team on our schedule. We’re not afraid to say that. We have that confidence and we want to make an impact right away and show we’re a team to be reckoned with.”
Even though Maryland and Wisconsin have never played in football, Johnson has heard a lot about Camp Randall Stadium and its rituals, including the “Jump Around” tradition between the third and fourth quarter. “I’ve seen it on YouTube,” he said. “I can’t lie, I’m looking forward to that one.”
One week after their Homecoming matchup with the Terrapins in Madison, the Badgers will travel to Piscataway, New Jersey, for their first meeting ever with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, whose home games are staged at 51,454-seat High Point Solutions Stadium, some 40 miles from Times Square.
The cover of the Rutgers media guide makes a fairly impressive historical statement: “The birthplace of college football has a new home.” Rutgers and Princeton played the first game of intercollegiate football on Nov. 6, 1869, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Rutgers won, 6-4.
“Signing with Rutgers as a freshman, we were part of the Big East, and I knew week-in and week-out, I might not be playing the best competition,” said defensive tackle Darius Hamilton, who weathered the transition to the American Athletic Conference last season after the Big East crumbled.
“This,” he said of the Big Ten, “is a dream come true for a guy who was a highly-touted recruit and could have gone anywhere he wanted (out of Don Bosco Prep). Just to be able to play against the best is a blessing. And from my perspective, this is the best conference.”
Hamilton was challenged on that assertion. The best conference? The Big Ten? “No question,” he reasserted with one qualification. “This is the best D-line versus O-Line conference that you can get. I love smash mouth football.”
From what he has seen of the Badgers on television, with his focus almost exclusively on the offensive line, Hamilton said, “They’re very physical with some great running backs. Those are some corn-fed, big boys up front; some huge dudes, a really physical team.”
At 260 pounds, Hamilton is undersized for his battles on the line of scrimmage. “But you can’t coach heart and that’s something we’ve got a lot of,” said Hamilton. “We’re a really big family team. We trust one another and we believe that we’re going to get the job done.”
That was echoed by Rutgers fullback Michael Burton, a fifth-year senior. “We’d have that edge to our play no matter what, that’s just the type of team that we are,” he said. “We’re a hungry team with a very hungry head coach (Kyle Flood) and we’re just hungry to win.”
Burton believes the Big Ten equivalent to Rutgers just might be Wisconsin. “I know they’re a big, physical, tough team just like ourselves,” he said of the Badgers. “They like to run the ball, they have a balanced offense and they a strong defense. They really remind me a lot of us.”
Flood referred to Burton as a “throwback type of football player.” He also sees how his team will be a compatible match for opponents like Wisconsin. “If you ask me about the Big Ten,” Flood said, “the first word that jumps into my mind is physicality … I see a tremendous marriage.”