COLLEGE PARK -- They are a pair of mismatched aces, these lonely, unappreciated, underused running backs at the University of Maryland.
Troy Jackson is squat, fast, flashy and talkative. Darren Colvin is none of the above. But they share a position called Ace Back, shuttling in and out of the lineup for a place behind quarterback Scott Zolak. They wait for runs that rarely are called in Maryland's high-tech, one-back offense.
The running backs don't even need to meet in a room. They could hold their daily briefings in a telephone booth.
"It is a little lonely in the meetings," said Tony Whittlesey, the offensive coordinator who directs the running backs. "With only one guy at a time to worry about, nothing slips past you. I joke with the other coaches that we should have 11 offensive coaches and 11 defensive coaches, because no one can hide from you."
But tomorrow at Byrd Stadium, the Ace Backs plan to emerge and attack Wake Forest. After absorbing 11 sacks in a 31-3 loss to Georgia Tech, the Terrapins may be ready to run the ball to keep defenses from dropping back into the passing lanes.
"We've been throwing a lot," Jackson said. "We know we need to run. We have to make teams respect our running attack."
At Maryland, it's 1.8 yards and a cloud of dust.
While Zolak unloaded for 1,597 passing yards, the Terrapins produced 339 net rushing yards in 188 carries in the first six games. But no one was complaining.
"You want to run," Jackson said. "But you know we have to pass."
Jackson and Colvin are the team's leading runners, compiling statistics that might look good for one half of a Big Eight game. Jackson has gained 318 yards in 82 carries, and Colvin has rushed 106 yards in 37 carries.
But the statistics are misleading. They're both talented runners who are sacrificing individual achievements for team success.
Jackson, a junior from Williamsburg, Va., was a football-baseball player at Lafayette High School, earning the nickname Bo, as in Bo Jackson. Although he is only 5 feet 10, Jackson weighs 210 pounds and is quick enough to reach the corner on the sweep.
"Being the one back, you know teams are keying on you," Jackson said. "I'm not taking any more punishment than usual. Everything hasbeen fine, except in the game against Michigan [a 45-17 defeat]. I got thrown to the turf on one play and hurt my back. And I hurt a knee on another tackle, and that was it for me."
Colvin, a 6-1, 237-pound sophomore from Aberdeen, is built like a pillar. His specialty is blocking, crushing oncoming linebackers to provide protection for Zolak. Even during Georgia Tech's
11-sack blitz, Colvin was perfect, picking up every blocking assignment.
"Coming out of Aberdeen High School, I hadn't done a lot of blocking," Colvin said. "I had trouble picking it up. I just had to practice, practice and practice."
Inside running is Colvin's specialty. He is better suited to be a fullback in a two-back offense, yet he is willing to adjust his style for the one-back attack.
"I'm trying to do the best I can," Colvin said. "The way things are going, I won't be a dominant runner this season. I'm more of the blocker, and Jackson is more of the runner."
They're opposites, all right. Jackson runs, Colvin blocks, and together, they add up to one ace.