Happy times are back at Maryland

JOHN EISENBERG

October 05, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

COLLEGE PARK -- If anyone on the planet is happier than Maryland quarterback John Kaleo, they can't be much happier. Kaleo is all shining teeth these days.

A year ago, he was benched and buried by a coach who had signed a new contract. Kaleo figured he had to transfer if he wanted to do anything in college football other than stand around.

But then there was this windfall of fortune. Joe Krivak, improbably, was bought out after the first year of his contract, giving Kaleo a second chance. The new coach, Mark Duffner, installed a pass-happy, no-huddle offense that is every quarterback's fondest wish. Kaleo won the starter's job. Now he is among the national leaders in total offense.

Talk about worst to first.

"The whole thing is pretty sweet," Kaleo was saying late Saturday night, after passing for a school-record 415 yards in the Terps' 47-34 defeat of Pitt.

The win was Duffner's first at Maryland after four September losses, and while the record is familiar stuff from a team that has won 26 of 72 games since 1986, no one can accuse the Terps of presenting the same, old front.

Maybe if they occasionally used a huddle to call the plays . . .

"I'm just glad I'm not on the other side trying to play defense against us," said wide receiver Marcus Badgett, whose 21 catches in the last two games are more than he caught all last season.

The Terps do not use a huddle. Ever. Not even when they are ahead and running out the clock. They often send out four receivers. They are throwing an average of 14 more passes a game than last year.

The offense is called the run-and-shoot, and it is not a misnomer. With less than half the season gone, the Terps are closing in on last year's total of passing yards.

"It's exciting football, that's for sure," Kaleo said. "I know the fans are loving it."

The 35,891 in attendance Saturday certainly won't complain about entertainment value. The teams combined for eight touchdown passes, 161 plays and more than a thousand yards. The Terps were up 13 with nine minutes left, but passed downfield for another touchdown, as though they were the ones behind.

And to think Duffner was once an assistant under Woody Hayes.

Of course, there is a caveat attached to all this hullaballoo: Can a team with such an offense become a steady winner in Division I? No one has done it yet.

The system worked for Duffner at Holy Cross, but in this league you play better athletes and smarter coaches. Top 25 teams playing tough, fundamental defense still beat the no-huddles in Division I.

Notice that the Terps were blown out at Penn State. Notice that the pass freaks at the University of Houston get clobbered by anyone you know. And hey, notice the pros, where the Bills and their hurry-up offense have lost the last two Super Bowls to teams playing smart, basic defense.

Sure, just about everyone in college ball is passing more, but the Miamis, Washingtons and Alabamas are still doing it the traditional way. That's not to say a Maryland couldn't make some noise with a no-huddle or run-and-shoot or no-shoot or whatever.

Basically, it's all a lab experiment right now. Duffner's loyalty to the no-huddle was costly at West Virginia, where the Terps blew a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter largely because they kept giving back the ball without running the clock. Vince Lombardi would have keeled over. But they were sensational building that lead. You see that and figure once they work out the kinks, look out.

Whether the run-and-shoot will be around in a decade is anybody's guess. But it is right for the Terps now. What do they have to lose? Recruiting better talent is what will pull them out of their hole, and prospects will be attracted to the daredevil offense. Just seeing what it did for Kaleo is enough of an advertisement.

"It's a dream for anyone to get to play this way," Badgett said. "Beforehand, I had mental images of what it would be like, but even the best of those images doesn't equal it."

For years, a top prospect really had no reason to go to Maryland. The facilities were outdated and the team was a loser. Now the facilities are upgraded, and here comes a coach recruits are going to love. It was tough deciding what was more entertaining Saturday, watching the game or watching Duffner catapult around the sidelines bear-hugging and screaming. It's a good thing he won or he might have impaled himself on a goal post. Anyone watching could not help reaching the obvious conclusion: At the very least, things are going to be interesting.

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