COLLEGE PARK – All of its bedeviling quarterback injuries finally caught up to Maryland, which tried a succession of gadget plays Saturday but ultimately had to face the hard truth that it couldn’t immediately transform a 230-pound linebacker into a college quarterback.
The trick plays — which included a variation of the wildcat formation nicknamed the “Wild Crab” — merely diverted attention from the real story: the difficulty of plugging in freshman Shawn Petty for the first time against Georgia Tech after losing three quarterbacks in the previous two games.
Petty managed two second-half touchdown passes to Stefon Diggs, but it wasn’t nearly enough as Georgia Tech rushed for 370 yards in rolling to a 33-13 victory.
It was the Terps’ third straight loss, and they remain two wins shy of becoming bowl eligible with three to play. Maryland (4-5, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) had been competitive in every game until Saturday.
Few college quarterbacks have had to overcome what Petty did to try to salvage his team's season. He switched from defense to offense two weeks ago and has been trying relearn a position that had been an afterthought since he left high school.
Petty finished 9-for-18 passing for 115 yards and rushed 17 times for 24 yards. He had not thrown a pass that mattered since playing for Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt a year ago.
“What was that, last November? [That’s] the last time I threw one in a game,” he said. “But I still toss the ball around so I can make myself feel better when I was at linebacker.”
Georgia Tech (4-5, 3-3 ACC) and its triple-option offense hurt Maryland with a pair of long scoring drives — each consuming more than five minutes. The second of those made it 33-7 with 9:34 remaining. With the Terps losing big on a chilly afternoon, many of the announced 33,471 left Byrd Stadium early.
The teams combined for only 11 pass completions — Maryland nine and Georgia Tech two. The Yellow Jackets, who entered with the nation’s fourth-leading rushing attack, didn’t need to throw. Maryland would have liked to, but couldn’t until the game was out of hand.
“We knew it was going to be tough today going into the game,” Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. “We also knew that we were going to have to play great on defense to keep it a very low scoring game. We weren’t able to do that.”
Petty said he was neither overwhelmed by the Yellow Jackets, nor by the cluster of media members who gathered around his chair to interview him after the game. He did say he was “a bit antsy” in the first half — he had just one completion for 1 yard — but relaxed after that.
“I always thought that I could play at the D-I level,” he said. “Now I have my chance and I have to go prove it.”
His position switch came after injuries to quarterbacks Perry Hills and Devin Burns two weeks ago. Petty became the starter after Caleb Rowe tore his anterior cruciate ligament last week against Boston College.
“It’s very difficult,” Edsall said. “You have to learn the terminology, be able to command a huddle, and get the signals from the sideline.”
Petty attempted to pass on his first play, but he was sacked for a 4-yard loss.
On Maryland’s third series, Petty lost the ball on a run, and Georgia Tech took over on Maryland’s 33. That led to a 5-yard touchdown run by Orwin Smith (10 carries for 89 yards), putting the Yellow Jackets up 13-0. Redshirt freshman Vad Lee, Georgia’s Tech’s second quarterback in the game, scored on a 1-yard run with 8:47 left in the second quarter, making it 20-0.
Maryland did not pick up a first down until a roughing the punter penalty on Georgia Tech in the second quarter. Petty’s first completion came on a 1-yard pass to Diggs with about five minutes left in the half.
The Yellow Jackets had not known exactly what to expect from Petty.
“There is no tape on the quarterback, but they stayed pretty much within their scheme,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “They ran some zone-read plays and didn’t run as many bubble screens, but we knew the guy would run the ball.”
Maryland periodically tried its version of the wildcat — or “Wild Crab,” as the coaches nicknamed it — in which tailback Wes Brown took the snap and either kept the ball or pitched it.
“I was just waiting for my time and my number to be called,” said Brown, who rushed for 38 yards on nine yards before leaving the game after twisting his ankle.
Petty also left briefly in the first half — “I got a little nicked up,” he said — but soon returned.
With Maryland trailing 27-0, Petty found Diggs over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the third quarter.
Petty raised his hands slowly — a muted celebration — after Diggs stretched the ball across the goal line. Petty threw Diggs another touchdown pass, this one from 23 yards, on Maryland’s final play.
“[Petty] earned a tremendous amount of respect from our team — which he already had — and from the opposing team,” Edsall said. “I have never had it [the injuries] happen before, and hope this never happens again. I hope we can keep him healthy for the next three weeks.”
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