Sacked Zolak won't put season to bed yet

October 09, 1990|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Evening Sun Staff

COLLEGE PARK -- Scott Zolak strode briskly into the lobby of Maryland's football building and announced that, yes, his confidence was still intact.

"It's just fine," said the Terps' senior quarterback. "A quarterback's has to be. The guys look up to him."

As Zolak begins a week that will culminate with Maryland's homecoming game against Wake Forest here Saturday, he is trying to put behind him a most unpleasant experience.

He was sacked 10 times in the 31-3 loss to Georgia Tech, after being nailed a total of 15 times in the previous five games. He had season-lows in attempts (33), completions (16) and yards (192).

But Zolak is not slashing his wrists. Nor is coach Joe Krivak toying with the idea of experimenting with a former walk-on, No. 2 QB James Sandwisch, as the starter.

"Scott's the best we've got," said quarterbacks coach Jerry Eisman. "And he does have a gun."

Saturday's catastrophe was by no means all Zolak's fault. He is a fifth-year senior, but is a starter this season for the first time and is making the mistakes of a sophomore.

He plays behind an offensive line that the coaches knew entering the season was perhaps the team's weakest point. Georgia Tech's fierce pass rush underscored the weakness.

"The line accounted for six of the sacks," said offensive line coach John Zernhelt. "We just got beat on those. Our tackles, who have been our strong point, gave up three. That's a concern. But that was typical of the entire day -- no one played particularly well."

"I ran some routes, even short ones, and looked back and Scott was enveloped," said wide receiver Barry Johnson. "There were times when they rushed three and dropped back eight. They took a lot away from him."

On top of the relentless rush, Tech's other defenders often blanketed Maryland's receivers.

"As a result of that combination, the rush got to him," Eisman said. "When you throw 50 times a game [an average of 45 times entering the game], teams are going to lay their ears back sometimes and come after you. We know Scott's not real maneuverable."

That's putting it gently. At 6 feet 5, 221 pounds, Zolak is gawky and simply isn't fast or quick enough to escape from pursuers.

"That's why we put the shotgun formation in, to give him more time to read," Eisman said. "In certain patterns, he has a progression of one, two, three receivers to read. But there are times when he reads the first and doesn't have time for the second. So it's a matter of his protection breaking down, receivers not being open or Scott not always reading like he's supposed to."

Zolak bristles at the suggestion he doesn't read the field quickly enough.

"My reads are fine," he said. "Georgia Tech just covered good. When they're covered and you're rushed, you need a great throw. It's hard to make great throws every time.

"A lot of times I read one, two, three and have to eat the ball. I wasn't going to force anything and try to make something out of nothing. Tech had the best defense so far."

Still another part of the problem is Maryland's inadequate running game. The Terps have averaged only 1.8 yards a carry while accumulating a meager 339 yards rushing in six games to their opponents' 796. Small wonder, then, defenders "lay their ears back," as Eisman said, and head for Zolak.

"A running game could take some pressure off," Eisman said.

"We have five games left," Zolak said resolutely. "We're not out of anything."

Not yet, perhaps. But the Terps must sweep their next three games -- against Wake, Duke and North Carolina -- to ensure a winning season.

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