Zolak, Thomas turn post time into victory parade

PATTERN OF SUCCESS

September 14, 1990|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- The route is one of the oldest in football. Everybody runs it. The key to its success is having a strong-armed quarterback and a fast wide receiver, and matching them against man-to-man coverage.

The post pattern.

The University of Maryland has won its first two games with it.

Flashback I: Maryland quarterback Scott Zolak passes to wide receiver Gene Thomas on a short version of the post pattern for a 51-yard touchdown with 1 minute, 1 second left in the game for a 20-13, season-opening win over Virginia Tech.

Flashback II: Zolak connects with Thomas on the post pattern again -- this time 15 yards deeper -- for a 59-yard touchdown with 2:27 left in the game, as Maryland upsets No. 25 West Virginia, 14-10.

"I never thought the post would be our big play because our passing game has consisted of short passes," said Zolak, who has thrown for 616 yards and four touchdowns in two games. "It's still all kind of amazing. But when you have a receiver with Gene's speed [4.4 seconds in the 40-yard --] and you catch the team in man-to-man coverage, all he needs is a step, and I just try to get it to him in stride."

It's really not that simple.

Maryland has run the play about three times a game, but without the same big results. The play has worked late in the game because both Virginia Tech and West Virginia were blitzing, which left cornerbacks one-on-one with Thomas.

The gambling seems to go against one of the basic principles of defense. Most teams, either in a tie or protecting a lead late in the game, play zone defense until pushed back to their 30- or 20-yard line before changing to man-to-man coverage.

But Zolak had burned Virginia Tech for 152 yards and West Virginia for 198 yards passing in the first half. Both opponents had success blitzing in the second and decided to stay with it in the final quarter.

"I was kind of surprised to see the man coverage in those situations," said Thomas, who has four catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns. "But when I see that cornerback only a yard off, I like it. One move, one step and there's a lot of green back there."

Zolak is the one who makes all the decisions. Against Virginia Tech, he changed the play at the line of scrimmage. Against West Virginia, the play was called in the huddle.

And Thomas was supposed to be his third choice.

"Actually, the wide receiver opposite of Gene [Barry Johnson] was the primary receiver," said Zolak. "Then the short guy on the flood side was second. Neither was open, and that's when I spotted Gene.

"There's really not a whole lot of time to make decisions when they're blitzing," said Zolak, who takes a five-step drop on the play. "You get a pre-snap read, and you know then if you can hit the primary receiver. By the time you take a step back, you have to decide who is going to be next."

Thomas always seems to be in the right spot. Not only was he the third choice against West Virginia, but he also happened to be in the lineup when the play was called. The post pattern is not designated strictly for Thomas.

"The Lord just happened to let me be there," said Thomas.

The biggest question now is how long Maryland will be able to run this play with success. Clemson (1-1), which will play Maryland tomorrow at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, certainly watched the West Virginia game film.

"I don't think any team gears their defense to shutting down one play or one player," said Zolak. "A defense either plays zone or man-to-man. With a zone, a defense takes a chance on having the offense sit back and pick you apart. When you play with pressure defense, there's a chance of making a big play, but a chance for the other team to make a bigger play. If the team gives it to us, we'll take it."

NOTES: Maryland and Baltimore officials have yet to determine if a game will be played at Memorial Stadium in the 1991 season. Sue Tyler, the university's acting athletic director, said that next year is an option, and the decision to play another game here would be primarily that of incoming athletic director Andy Geiger.

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