COLLEGE PARK - Depending on whom you listened to last week, Joel Statham's first career start at quarterback for Maryland was either a mistake-prone mess or a textbook example of an athlete showing poise in the face of adversity.
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen stood firmly in the second camp, repeatedly praising Statham for his toughness, reminding people of his youth and complimenting him on several strong throws he made in the second half. Friedgen even pointed out that Statham managed to keep his composure better than Scott McBrien did in his first start two years ago, and McBrien ended up winning the most games of any quarterback in school history.
There was no shortage of detractors, though. Maryland's Internet message boards were flooded with harsh (and anonymous) critiques of Statham's play, and a column in The Diamondback, Maryland's student newspaper, even said there were "a handful of fans in attendance who could have put up the numbers Statham did."
Statham - who lost three fumbles, went 12-for-22 for 169 yards and threw one interception last Saturday in a 23-20 victory over Northern Illinois - gets another chance to show which assessment was more accurate when Maryland takes on Temple tonight at Byrd Stadium. And while he certainly heard and read some of the criticism, he was also able to laugh most of it off.
"I have a huge support system following me," Statham said. "I had a lot of friends here, and my parents and grandparents here. They were all telling me I'd be OK. I felt like I did OK, I just needed to work on some things. I didn't really expect to do those things I did in the first couple of series, but it's just something I have to learn from."
One of Friedgen's priorities this week was to get Statham extra work running Maryland's option attack, which was the source of two of Statham's fumbles last week.
"That's something that will never get old," Statham said. "I've been running option my whole life. I did a little bit of work on it this week, and I think it went pretty well."
Running the option requires a quarterback to make quick, decisive decisions, and Statham will certainly have to do that tonight against the Owls. Temple loves to put pressure on its opponents, and blitzes with such a frequency as to make Maryland's blitz-happy defense seem conservative.
"It's going to be a another test for our young quarterback and some of the young lineman we have to play," Friedgen said. "It could be real good or it could be real bad. When you [blitz] eight, it usually works that way."
Temple hasn't had a winning season in six previous years under coach Bobby Wallace, but the Owls have scared plenty of ranked teams during his tenure. Last season, Temple scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to force overtime against Virginia Tech, but the Owls lost, 24-23, in when their kicker missed an extra-point try.
"They have nothing to lose," Friedgen said. "They're going to come down here and have fun, and they're going to throw everything at us but the kitchen sink."
Temple didn't have much success stopping Virginia last week in a 44-14 loss - the Cavaliers punted just twice and racked up 504 yards of total offense - but Owls quarterback Walter Washington could present some problems. Washington, who scored both of Temple's touchdowns, is considered one of the best athletes in the Big East. After watching him on film, Friedgen came away impressed.
"The kid can get the ball to the right guy, which tells me he can read coverage," Friedgen said. "I see guys all the time that can't do that. He's a big, strong guy who's tough and takes some hits. Virginia got after him pretty good, but he also hit a couple passes on them, too."
Temple does have to deal with the challenge of coming into Byrd Stadium, however, where the Terps are 20-1 under Friedgen.
"It will be the first time in a long time that we've played in front of such a noisy crowd," Wallace said. "We played at Penn State last year, but I wouldn't call that noisy. Maryland is loud. And we haven't played in front of a loud crowd. I compare them to Virginia Tech. So we've got to really be concerned about the noise factor in the game. I talked to Northern Illinois' coaches, and they said the same thing."
NOTE: Maryland recently signed a deal with Connecticut to play a two-game series, said Larry Leckonby, the athletic department's senior associate athletics director and chief financial officer. The Huskies will travel to Byrd Stadium in 2012, with the Terps going to Storrs the following year.
Matchup: Temple (0-1) vs. No. 23 Maryland (1-0)
Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM) in progress, WNST (1570 AM), WTTR (1470 AM), WAMD (970 AM)
Line: Maryland by 27
Maryland (1-0) vs. Temple (0-1)
Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park