Before he even arrived on campus as a true freshman, Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien was already sending offensive coordinator James Franklin text messages asking questions so advanced that Franklin said they’re usually reserved for second-year players. O’Brien had passed the stage of memorizing plays and jumped to problem-solving.
“It wasn’t just about who his hot was, it was, can I readjust my point to take the hot off and things like that,” Franklin said. “I’m reading the question to my quarterbacks, and they’re all like, ‘Who is this kid?’”
It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the ACC finds out.
O’Brien, a redshirt freshman, is a major reason behind the Terps’ unparalleled turnaround in the ACC this year. After a 2-10 season in 2009, Maryland was picked by the media to finish last in the Atlantic Division -- in part because the Terps would have a rookie quarterback. That rookie, though, is 5-2 as a starter over the past seven games, has thrown 10 touchdowns and just one interception in the past four games, and has Maryland in position to win the Atlantic Division if it can first get past Florida State on Saturday.
“His football IQ is through the roof,” said Franklin, who was heavily involved in recruiting O’Brien out of Kernersville, N.C. “I just saw a kid who had a lot of things to work with. Was he perfect? No, no one’s perfect, but he had enough skills to work with and he had the right attitude to go along with his intelligence to take him wherever he wants to go.”
He wants to go to Charlotte, and he’s willing to put in the extra time to get there.
O’Brien spends two to three hours studying film on Sunday nights, and will grade himself every week. He’ll come back for another hour on Monday nights after practice, and sometimes he’ll bring linemen or receivers with him.
“I knew before I came to Maryland that I wanted to be good and I wanted our team to be good and compete for an ACC title,” he said. “To me, the extra couple of hours a day that other people don’t do is worth it when you see it show up in the wins and losses column. I just want to be a leader and know where everyone is supposed to be at all times and not be surprised on game day with what the defense throws at us. That’s really what drives me and seeing it pay off this year as opposed to last year has really kept me going.”
It’s also kept his team going.
“I think not only he helps the huddle; I think he helps the coaches,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “He’s just kind of a cool guy. ‘Yeah Coach, I got it, no problem. That one’s on me.’ And he’ll come up with some thoughts. He had a pretty good thought against Virginia and we changed some things around, so he’s growing at a very rapid rate right now.”
O’Brien became the first freshman quarterback to start at Maryland since Latrez Harrison in 1999 and is one of only five freshmen quarterbacks to start in school history. He made it through his first 96 passes without throwing an interception. His 4-to-1 TD to interception ratio is tops in the FBS among freshmen, as is his 1.79 interception percentage.
O’Brien enters Saturday’s game against Florida State ranked third in the FBS among freshmen quarterbacks with 16 touchdown passes. He has also run for a touchdown and caught another this year.
Despite being such a student of the game, O’Brien said he’s learned “a ton” this year.
“Xs and Os, I take pride in being good at that, but you can’t trade anything for game experience,” he said. “The speed of the game is starting to slow down for me every week. I’m feeling more and more comfortable every week back there.”
In his first significant playing time, against Morgan State, O’Brien threw three touchdown passes -- on his first four pass attempts. His efficiency rating of 133.5 is fourth among freshmen quarterbacks in the country. His 1,571 yards rank him 15th in conference history among freshmen.
O’Brien, who has averaged 213.1 passing ypg in his seven starts, set the Maryland freshman record with 134 passing yards against Miami on Nov. 6. But the Terps lost, and he took it personally.
“I just judge everything on wins and losses,” he said. “I would rather have a bad day and win a game than have a great statistical day and lose. When my career is all said and done I’ll look back on what I accomplished but for now I’m putting the team first and focusing on Florida State this week and beating them.”