Despite Statham's miscues, Friedgen stands by Terps QB

Sophomore making progress, coach says after loss to W.Va.

September 20, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

Three times Maryland's Joel Statham walked to the sideline against West Virginia after throwing an interception, and three times Ralph Friedgen walked over to his sophomore quarterback and offered a mixture of encouragement and criticism.

It's a scene that's become all too familiar for Maryland this season, as Statham has accounted for eight turnovers in just three games. In the bowels of Milan Puskar Stadium Saturday, Friedgen did what all good coaches do and defended his quarterback, but he also made it clear things have to change at some point.

"I thought Joel hung in there and made some pretty good throws. Just not enough," Friedgen said. "I credit him for hanging in there. ... Sometimes he just has to understand if the play is covered, there is a third option or run the ball. I'd rather take a sack than interception."

Statham, in fact, did show some solid running skills against the Mountaineers, carrying six times for 39 yards, including a 7-yard run on third-and-five that set up Nick Novak's 49-yard field-goal attempt with 1:20 to play.

But in the first half, the Chatham, Ga., native never looked comfortable in the pocket. At times, he made the right reads and then made a poor throw, which Friedgen said he can live with.

But at other times, Statham acknowledged, he didn't go through his options fully. At the end of the first quarter, when Statham was intercepted by Mountaineers cornerback Adam Jones at the 7-yard line, he was trying to get the ball to Rob Abiamiri near the sidelines. It wasn't until afterward, Statham said, he realized it was the wrong read.

"[Jones] squatted on [Steve] Suter on that play and Suter ran right by him," Statham said. "I should have had a touchdown to Suter on that play, but I kind of read it wrong and panicked and threw it high."

"Sometimes I think he tries to steer the ball, and I think he gets a little high with it," Friedgen said.

"When you throw it high over the middle, it usually leads to interceptions. ... I wish I could say I'm going to cure that tomorrow, but I know that's not going to happen. It's going to take time."

The crowd noise prompted some confusion in the huddle and costly timeouts, said Friedgen.

"Joel's going to have to make sure everybody knows what's happening. It's part of the job. He has to keep communicating even coming out of the huddle," said Friedgen.

Despite Statham's struggles, those fans clamoring for Friedgen to give freshman backup Jordan Steffy a shot best not hold their breath.

"I see Joel progressing, I really do," Friedgen said.

"A couple times he had people in his face, but he made a great throw to Derrick Fenner [for a 27-yard touchdown] and he made a couple other good throws."

Friedgen said in such a tight game there were obviously opportunities for second-guessing. In overtime, Maryland had the ball at the 16-yard line on fourth-and-one, and Friedgen was tempted to go for it.

Instead he had Novak kick a 33-yard field goal, and the next possession the Mountaineers won the game with a touchdown pass to Chris Henry.

"If you go for it there and if you make it, you're a wise man," Friedgen said. "If you don't make it, you're not so wise. I figured I'd at least give you guys something to write about."

There were still plenty of positives, however.

Maryland's defense gave an inspired effort just to keep the Terps in the game, and cornerback Gerrick McPhearson, in just his second start, held his own covering Henry, despite a concerted effort by West Virginia to pick on him.

"McPhearson rose to the occasion," Friedgen said. "He hung right in there, and he's giving up six inches on [Henry]. He gave up one pass, but that's going to happen. If you're one-on-one with a good receiver and you can complete one out of six passes, I think you're doing OK."

Maryland also got a dramatic field-goal block from William Kershaw in the closing seconds, which sent the game into overtime.

"I wasn't even a blocker. I was just a pusher on that," Kershaw said. "I was pushing good and when I saw how far I was back, I just put my hand up and it hit my hand. I thought when I got that block maybe we were going to pull it out."

"I think we learned a lot as a team," Friedgen said.

"Hopefully we did. A lot of our kids had broken assignments. Playing in this environment, there was trouble hearing. All the things we thought that were going to happen [did happen]. Hopefully, we've learned now so the next time we go into this situation, we should be better."

NOTES: Senior defensive end Kevin Eli suffered a concussion in the loss and his status is uncertain, and senior wide-out Rich Parson (back injury) will miss three days of practice but is expected to play against Duke. ... D'Qwell Jackson had 16 tackles, including nine solo, in the loss.

Sun staff writer Bill Free contributed to this article.

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