Tech throttles Terps, 20-7

Attack stalls, QB Statham benched

Steffy leads UM to lone TD

home streak cut at 13

`worst we've played in a long time'

October 10, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Maryland came into yesterday's game against Georgia Tech rested, ready and confident it could erase the memory of last season's ugly performance against the Yellow Jackets.

Surprisingly, the Terps managed to pull it off, but only by turning in a performance that was even uglier.

Maryland gained just 81 yards against Georgia Tech, its lowest total since 1996, and the Terps didn't play much better on defense, stumbling their way to a 20-7 defeat in front of 52,733 inside Byrd Stadium.

The loss broke a 13-game home winning streak for Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), and raised all kinds of questions about a young team that appeared to have turned the corner with a 55-21 win over Duke two weeks ago. Terps coach Ralph Friedgen also now has a quarterback controversy on his hands, and the decision to start sophomore Joel Statham or freshman Jordan Steffy won't be made any easier with the country's top-rated defense - North Carolina State - coming to town in six days.

"This is the worst we've played in a long time," said Friedgen, whose team finished with just 7 yards rushing thanks to six sacks. "We did a very poor job of preparing these kids for this game. I have to look at myself in the mirror. I'm not very proud of what I've done."

There were more problems last night than the play of the quarterbacks. Friedgen went out of his way to make that clear. Maryland's defense got pushed around in the second half, its offensive line blocked poorly and its pass defense struggled mightily at times. But the quarterback issue will almost certainly be the focus this week as Maryland tries to pick itself up off the canvas.

Statham, who has started every game this year for the Terps, entered the game leading the ACC in total offense. Just two weeks ago against the Blue Devils, he threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns. But against the Yellow Jackets, he played tentative and threw the ball erratically, completing just six of 14 passes for 36 yards in 2 1/2 quarters as Maryland fell behind 17-0. By that point, Friedgen had seen enough.

"Joel just couldn't do anything right," Friedgen said.

He turned to Steffy, a true freshman out of Conestoga Valley High School in Leola, Pa., looking for some kind of spark. Steffy provided it, leading Maryland on a 14-play, 63-yard drive that resulted in a 2-yard touchdown run by Sammy Maldonado. The rest of the game, however, Steffy looked just as confused and erratic as Statham did, getting sacked four times and fumbling the snap multiple times. He finished the game 5-for-9 for 38 yards.

Friedgen wouldn't say afterward who will be his starter next week, but after standing behind Statham repeatedly, and going to great lengths to shoot down questions about a possible quarterback change for the past month, he made it clear Statham's job is no longer secure.

"I think from what I saw tonight [Steffy] has a good chance of [playing more]," Friedgen said, adding that he was going to stay up late and evaluate the tape instead of sleeping. "I'm going to tell you what: I'm going to do whatever I've got to do to win football games. If that means changing people, firing coaches, then I'm doing what I've got to do."

Neither Steffy nor Statham made themselves available to the media after the game, but the Maryland players who did seemed well aware that the Terps will be facing a barrage of questions this week about which player will start.

"People are definitely going to ask questions about Joel," said senior guard C.J. Brooks. "I'm still going to support Joel and whomever can get the job done. All the things are going to be resolved in the next few weeks. It depends on who steps up. They're both young guys."

Georgia Tech (3-2, 2-2) certainly stepped up its game, especially after Maryland moved the ball on its opening possession. The Terps drove the ball to the Yellow Jackets' 14-yard line, but on third-and-12, Statham got sacked by Adamm Oliver for an 11-yard loss, and Nick Novak missed a 44-yard field-goal attempt.

From that point, and until Steffy entered the game with 6:17 remaining in the third quarter, Georgia Tech dominated the Terps. Quarterback Reggie Ball - who beat Maryland last year as a true freshman - picked apart the Terps' secondary, throwing for 197 yards and rushing for 43 more. It was a stark difference from the Yellow Jackets' last two games, where Ball threw six interceptions.

"I told him don't go out there not to make mistakes," Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said. "Play loose and aggressive. He went out there and played the way he's capable of playing. We've got to keep him at that level."

In the second quarter, Ball hit wide receiver Nate Curry for an 11-yard touchdown to give Georgia Tech a 7-0 lead. Maryland cornerback Domonique Foxworth was adamant that Curry pushed off to get open, but the play stood.

Running back P.J. Daniels made it 17-0 in the third quarter, carrying the ball three times for 51 yards on a drive where Maryland's defense barely put up a fight.

Maryland's lone touchdown drive wasn't a thing of beauty - it was aided by two Georgia Tech personal fouls - but when Maldonado rumbled over the goal line, the Terps showed a flicker of life with 11:28 remaining. Steffy pounded his chest as he ran off the field, and the crowd jumped to its feet.

Five minutes later, though, the fans were filing out of the stadium. Maryland's final three possessions netted negative 35 yards. In the last three quarters, Georgia Tech outgained Maryland 282 yards to 13.

"This game was a real test to see where we are," Friedgen said. "If this is where we are, then we're in trouble."

In a shell

Key numbers for the Terps that led to their 20-7 loss to Georgia Tech:

7 - Net rushing yardage

74 - Net passing yardage

81 - Total yards

10 - First downs

2-for-16 - Third-down conversions

8-for-69 - Penalty yardage

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