It’s only September, and Maryland has already suffered injuries to two of the most important position groups -- quarterback and offensive line. Starting left tackle Justin Gilbert tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season, starting quarterback Jamarr Robinson has a sore throwing shoulder, backup quarterback Danny O’Brien has a nagging ankle injury, and third-string quarterback C.J. Brown is out for the season with a broken collarbone.
“It’s a concern,” coach Ralph Friedgen said, “there’s no doubt about it.”
Not after the way Maryland’s offense struggled in the first half last weekend at West Virginia. Instead of approaching Saturday’s home game against Florida International as a final tune-up before the conference schedule begins, the questions surrounding the offense now have Maryland staring at a potential trap game. FIU’s 0-2 record is deceiving, as the Panthers lost to Rutgers and Texas A&M by a combined 12 points.
The Panthers rank 28th in the nation in total defense, ninth in the nation with 17 tackles for loss, and ninth in the nation in passes intercepted with five. That doesn’t bode well for a Maryland offense that totaled just two rushing yards, four first downs and no third-down conversions in the first half against West Virginia.
“I don’t think we played as well as we’re capable of playing,” Friedgen said. “… As poorly as we played, we were in a position to make a run at them, we just didn’t make the plays we needed to make. For this team, hopefully we’ll be better prepared. Next time we’re in that situation hopefully we can become successful because I really think that’s what this team needs, to be able to win a game like that to really start believing in themselves and having the confidence they need to be a good football team.”
Both Robinson and O’Brien are expected to play against FIU, but the offensive line had to be reshuffled. R.J. Dill was moved to left tackle, and redshirt freshman Pete DeSouza was promoted to right tackle.
"Gilbert is a tough loss for us, I'd say he is one of our better offensive lineman and he was starting to grow and mature the last few games,” said receiver Torrey Smith. “He has gotten better and better. Personally I'm going to miss him. I always used to joke with him in the huddle and our lockers are right across from each other so we talk every day. It's a blow for us but it's also an opportunity for Pete DeSouza to step up and show what he's worth. He's done a great job since camp getting better and better and he did a great job holding his own against West Virginia against their defensive line."
Maryland had the fortune of having all four nonconference games scheduled at the start of the season, so there has been plenty of time to prepare for the Oct. 2 ACC opener against Duke, but the Terps can’t afford to look past FIU. After a 2-10 season last year, the Terps need every win they can get in order to get back to the postseason.
"This is a very, very important game on our schedule,” Friedgen said. “It is very important for us to re-establish our momentum and really focus on whatever we need to do to win this football game."