No. 23 UM gets offensive, decks Duke in 55-21 rout

Terps earn 35 first downs, 685 yards of total offense

Statham throws for 362

September 26, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

DURHAM, N.C. - Say this much about Maryland quarterback Joel Statham: At this point in his career, he certainly keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Statham, a sophomore making just his fourth career start, threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns yesterday in the Terps' Atlantic Coast Conference opener, helping No. 23 Maryland pull away from Duke for a 55-21 victory before 16,298 at Wallace Wade Stadium.

For much of the game, Statham looked like a confident, poised and accurate veteran, capable of leading one of the top programs in the league. He completed passes with blitzing defenders in his face, and in picking apart the Blue Devils' secondary, he displayed both touch and arm strength.

Maryland ran up 685 yards of total offense, and tied a school record with 35 first downs.

At times, though, Statham reminded everyone that he is still a first-year starter, capable of looking brilliant on one play, then shaky the next. He threw three interceptions (giving him seven this year) and fumbled three times (now eight this season), all of which helped Duke hang around into the third quarter.

But in the end, his progress seemed to outweigh his growing pains. After falling behind 21-17, Maryland (3-1, 1-0 ACC) scored 38 unanswered points and defeated Duke (0-4, 0-2) for the fifth straight time. Statham hooked up with tight end Vernon Davis for three of his touchdown passes, making Davis the first Terps receiver to catch three scores since Guilian Gary in 2000 against Georgia Tech.

"I think today that I learned a little bit more from the mistakes that I made," Statham said. "I started to get real comfortable in the second half and started reading the defense better. I guess today is probably the best I've played so far."

Since Ralph Friedgen became Maryland's coach, only Scott McBrien has thrown for more yards in a game than Statham did yesterday. McBrien threw for 381 in the Gator Bowl last season against West Virginia.

"No one has thrown the ball against Duke like we did, so I hope that means [Statham's] getting better," Friedgen said.

A week ago, it would have been hard to envision such a scenario. Statham went just 9-for-20 for 108 yards against then-No. 7 West Virginia and threw three interceptions as the Terps lost, 19-16, in overtime.

That performance sparked criticism from armchair quarterbacks everywhere, and Friedgen responded by barring the media from talking to Statham for a week.

"It was kind of nice to have my privacy," Statham joked yesterday.

Privacy may have alleviated some of the pressure, but Maryland's renewed running attack likely helped far more. The Terps rushed for 277 yards yesterday, including 99 by Sammy Maldonado and 87 by Josh Allen. Both players ran for a touchdown. Behind Maldonado's bruising runs, Maryland jumped out to a 10-0 lead.

It was 10-7 seconds later, as Duke's Chris Davis returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. Statham threw his first interception moments later, but Duke gave the ball back almost immediately, and Statham responded by hitting Vernon Davis for a 29-yard touchdown.

"The thing I saw differently in Joel [today] was that he didn't get frustrated," said Davis, who had 101 yards receiving. "Any other time, he would get frustrated and look down on himself. He just hung in there and kept his head up."

There would be plenty of opportunities for perseverance. Duke closed to within 17-14 on a 6-yard touchdown catch by Brian Patrick, and then took a 21-17 lead when Statham made his most costly mistake of the game. On a slant pattern, Statham placed the ball high and behind Derrick Fenner, and Blue Devils cornerback John Talley returned it 85 yards for a touchdown.

Despite essentially dominating the action to that point, Maryland was behind.

"I honestly thought we were dominating the game at that point, but we kept making mistakes," said Maryland center Kyle Schmitt.

Instead of folding, Statham responded. He hit Davis for a 12-yard touchdown with 4:36 remaining in the half, then got Maryland in position for Nick Novak's 47-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining to go up 27-21.

"It wasn't even like we played that bad in the first half," Friedgen said. "We just turned the ball over a couple times, and we weren't playing smart."

In the second half, when players began to tire in the hot sun, the talented gap between the teams became more apparent. On the Terps' first possession of the second half, Statham hit Davis on a short pass near the sideline, and Davis broke five tackles for a 40-yard touchdown.

Two possessions later, Statham found Rich Parson open down the field, and Parson spun away from two Duke defenders, waltzing into the end zone for a 25-yard score that put Maryland up 41-21. Allen and Mario Merrills added rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter to turn the game into a blowout.

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