COLLEGE PARK -- The mere mention of the words option offense draws immediate attention. The formation has been the University of Maryland's Achilles' heel for the past three years. Fake here, fake there, fake out the Terps. Touchdown.
A lot of touchdowns.
"Hell, last year we made progress. We finally made Clemson punt," said a smiling Greg Williams, Maryland's defensive coordinator and secondary coach.
"But I don't know if it's so much the offense as it was the quality teams that we've played who ran it," said Williams. "West Virginia had Major Harris at quarterback, Virginia had Shawn Moore, Georgia Tech has Shawn Jones and Clemson just has quality speed at all the skilled positions."
Tomorrow night at 7 at Byrd Stadium, another quality team, No. 22 Syracuse (1-0), comes to town with its Freeze Option.
And the Orangemen's Marvin Graves, a 6-foot-1, 192-pound sophomore quarterback from Archbishop Carroll High in Washington, is just as effective in running it as Harris, Moore and Jones.
"Syracuse is a good, solid football team and very explosive offensively," said Maryland coach Joe Krivak. "The trigger man is Graves, and he does it all. He runs the option and is a great perimeter player with a big-league arm. He is the most dangerous when he doesn't see anything open, then boom, big play."
The Orangemen have other outstanding perimeter players in wide receivers Shelby Hill and Qadry "The Missle" Ismail, younger brother of former Notre Dame star Raghib "Rocket" Ismail.
For the Terps to win, they must rely on outside linebackers Greg Hines, Joel Goode and Mark Sturdivant, cornerbacks Scott Rosen and Mike Thomas and safeties Ron Reagan and Bill Inge.
Overall, this may be the fastest group of defensive perimeter players the Terps have had in Krivak's five years.
"With the option, you have got to get a lot of guys going to the ball, but everybody also has to complete their assignments," said Williams, whose Terps run a 3-4 as their base defense. "You also need to get some pressure from the back side."
The principle behind the option is to isolate the offense's skilled players one-on-one. Defensive assignments are numerous. Cornerbacks need to support the run quickly, but not so fast that they get beat for the long pass. The free safety usually takes the pitch man.
Inside linebackers basically have to key on the fullback first, respond to the option second. Against Syracuse, Maryland probably won't overload to the strong side, because the Orangemen are just as effective running the option to the weak side.
The biggest assignment belongs to the outside linebackers, whose main job is to contain the quarterback. Maryland did a fine job of stopping Virginia quarterback Matt Blundin last week, but Blundin is 6-7, 232 pounds.
He was no threat.
"Graves is a much better runner," said Sturdivant, adding that Syracuse has two solid runners in fullback Al Wooten and halfback David Walker. "For the most part, our job is to slow check [contain] the quarterback, keeping an eye on him all the time. A lot of times, you have to force and react very quickly."
Outside linebacker is considered one of the Terps' strengths this year. Goode, Hines (both seniors) and Sturdivant (sophomore) are each at least 6-2 and weigh more than 225. All can run the 40-yard -- in 4.9 or better. Thomas (4.6) and Rosen (4.51) have excellent speed, too.
"There's no question Syracuse is an outside-hitting team, but if there's one position we don't have to worry about, it's our outside linebackers," said Mike Jarmolowich, Maryland junior inside linebacker. "All of those guys can run, and they've been around for a while. Don't worry, we'll be prepared and ready to play."
The Terps also may have a large advantage on the interior line. The Orangemen have 10 lettermen back on offense this season, but only one on the offensive line. The Terps have two All-Atlantic Coast Conference candidates on the defensive line in senior tackles Larry Webster and Lubo Zizakovic, and five of the six linemen on the two-deep depth chart have lettered.
Krivak has said the Terps won't stop the Orangemen with any type of new defensive gimmicks.
"You just try to make someone responsible for the dive, option and pitch, and that's all you can do," said Krivak. "We know we're going to see it, and we've got to handle it. I'd love to have a low-scoring game. Like 6-3 right before there are two minutes to go, then somebody makes a big play and we win, 9-6."
Maryland vs. option teams
Result. ... . .. .. ... Yards
1988 . . rushing passing
West Virginia 55... . .. 347. . .... 193
Syracuse 20. . . . . . . 165. . ... . .176
Georgia Tech 8. ... . .. 92. . . . . .138
Clemson 49. . . .. . .. .373. . . . . .139
Virginia 24. . . ....... 158. . . . . 203
West Virginia 14. .... . 247. . .......150
Clemson 31. . . . .. . . 243. . ... .. 70
Georgia Tech 28. . ..... 219. . . . ...209
Virginia 48. . ......... 361. . ...... 161
West Virginia 10. ... .. 148. . . . . 179
Clemson 18. ... ... .... 117. .... . . 164
Georgia Tech 31. . .. .. 202. .. . .. 271
Virginia 30. . .. . ....246. ......... 163