COLLEGE PARK -- It has been more a trip into the twilight zone than into the end zone.
The University of Maryland's offense has gotten inside the opposition's 30-yard line 13 times but has scored only three touchdowns and three field goals during those opportunities.
Two passes have been intercepted, two field-goal attempts missed, two fumbles lost and one fourth-and-one stopped.
"We need more repetitions," coach Joe Krivak said at his weekly news conference yesterday, as the Terps (2-1) began preparing for Saturday's game (noon) against North Carolina State (2-1) at Byrd Stadium. "We have a lot of new players [nine] on offense, and, hopefully, you can take care of the mistakes by repeating the things you're going to do.
"We have focused on what we've got to do and who we're going to do it with. These guys have given us a good effort with good desire. We can't ask for more. We're going to approach it with optimism, hug them, pat them on the butt and try to get better."
Inexperience may be a big part of the problem, but the Terps also are limited physically in their running game and the middle of their offensive line.
Maryland has been able to disguise the weaknesses in its middle-of-the-field offense, gaining 361.7 yards per game.
But once inside the 20, commonly referred to as the red zone, yards have become tougher to gain. Most coaches switch their defenses from zone coverage to man-to-man, some cover every offensive lineman with a defensive lineman to slow the running game, and most are willing to gamble with blitzes.
"The field becomes a little smaller down there," said offensive coordinator Tony Whittlesey. "Teams don't have to respect all the weapons you once had in the middle of the field. For example, they don't have to cover the long ball. A receiver can only go 20 to 30 yards, so the defense can gamble more. We have plays for those situations; it's just a matter of execution. I'm sure we'll get better."
Senior quarterback Scott Zolak takes the blame for some of the team's failures. He has played fairly well in three games, completing 69 of 131 passes for 882 yards and five touchdowns, but has had problems reading his receivers on option routes deep in the opponent's territory. Clemson intercepted two of his passes, stopping drives at the 27 and 17.
"First of all, when you pass as much as we do, you have to expect those things [interceptions] to happen," said Zolak, who is in his first year as a starter. "We've also played against three good defenses. Down there, you get a lot of heat and you can have a lot of mental breakdowns. Those defenses require a lot of adjusting, and sometimes we just haven't made the adjustments."
Whittlesey said: "People tend to forget that Scott Zolak is only in his first year as a starter just because of his size and because he has a cannon of an arm. On occasion, he has just taken a lot on himself to try to make things happen. We still feel very confident about his abilities."
Timing patterns with receivers also have hurt Maryland. Most of the receivers still are getting acquainted with Zolak.
Starting wide receiver Gene Thomas is in his first year after transferring from Montgomery-Rockville Junior College, and so is sophomore H-back Frank Wycheck. Starting tight end Bret Boehly was used primarily as a blocker last season, and the only receiver with experience as a full-time starter is senior wide receiver Barry Johnson.
"In some cases, our guys haven't seen certain defensive situations," said quarterback coach Jerry Eisaman. "Half of the times, we've hurt ourselves."
The running game may not develop until next season. Maryland has rushed the ball only 76 times (92, including carries by Zolak) in part because of the one-back set. But the one-back set requires a multidimensional running back, something the Terps don't seem to have.
Maryland's top running backs are Troy Jackson (162 yards on 48 carries) and Darren Colvin (69 yards on 20 carries), straight-ahead runners who have little speed to get outside.
The offensive-line play also has been inconsistent -- strong at the tackles, but weak at center and guard. Last week, Clemson nose guard Rob Bodine had 10 tackles.
Most opposing coaches are ignoring Maryland's running game and gearing their defenses for the pass in deep territory.
"We've got problems in the running game," said Krivak, whose team has gained only 67.7 yards a game and 2.2 per carry. "But Darren and Troy are running hard, as hard as they can. In some cases, they had no place to go."
To get outside speed, Krivak has used freshman Mark Mason (16 yards, seven carries), but only sparingly. The Terps have moved sophomore Andre Vaughn (Oakland Mills) back to halfback after nearly a week of experimenting at wide receiver. Vaughn showed good acceleration Saturday, returning a kickoff 29 yards in his first collegiate action after recovering from injuries to his left knee the past two years.