Terps' Statham still No. 1, but gap narrows

Friedgen sticks with him as QB starter, but opens door for Steffy to move up

October 13, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen had plenty to say yesterday when asked who would be his starting quarterback this week against North Carolina State. But the more Friedgen said, the less clear the situation became.

And that might be just the way Maryland's fourth-year coach wants it this week.

This much we know: Friedgen said at his weekly news conference that sophomore Joel Statham is still No. 1 on the depth chart. Statham knows the offense better, has more experience and the coach expects him to rebound after playing poorly against Georgia Tech.

But Friedgen also made something else clear: the competition for the position is wide open. Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) might give Jordan Steffy more chances to practice this week with the first-team offense, and could insert the freshman into the game for an early series Saturday, even if things are going well.

Also, everything could change tomorrow or the next day, depending on how the two quarterbacks practice. Friedgen did make at least one definitive statement yesterday in regard to his quarterbacks: Trust me. I know what I'm doing.

"We're not the Redskins," Friedgen said. "I'm dealing with a kid who's 18 years old and a kid who's 20 years old. I know those two individuals better than anyone. I know what's going on in their lives. I think both of them are going to be very good quarterbacks.

"We will open it up more in competition, but when I feel a change is necessary, I'll make it. ... This is what I do. You have to trust me, and my experience of 36 years, that I know what I'm doing."

Friedgen playfully teased the assembled media inside Maryland's Gossett Team House, saying, "I laugh at how excited you guys get" about quarterback controversies, but his message was clearly also directed to the Terps' suddenly impatient fan base, which booed Statham during the team's 20-7 loss to Georgia Tech.

Steffy replaced Statham in the second half, getting a rousing cheer from the fans, and did manage to lead Maryland to its only touchdown against the Yellow Jackets. But in the end, neither quarterback looked great. Statham threw for just 36 yards, Steffy 38.

"With what Jordan did on Saturday, I don't think he beat Joel out," Friedgen said, "but he definitely did a commendable job. If we have the opportunity, we'll probably play him more earlier in games.

"I talked to Joel, and I said being quarterback means being mentally tough," he added. "Not just physically tough, but mentally tough. I told him don't worry about the people in the stands. As soon as you start playing good, the same guys that booed you are going to be the same guys that cheer you. They're very fickle."

If anything, Friedgen said he's hoping to ignite Statham's competitive fire this week. During his short career at Maryland, Statham has often performed best when his job wasn't secure.

Last spring, Friedgen named him the starter before Maryland's spring game, and Statham went out and threw three interceptions. When Friedgen reopened the competition in the fall, Statham played some of his best football.

"I think it needs to be a competitive situation," Friedgen said. "I think the fact that Jordan is getting better makes it closer to being a competitive situation. Does Jordan know what Joel knows? No, not yet. But he was able to go in there and make plays when we needed them, and that's a good sign."

Both quarterbacks are once again off-limits to the media this week and the rest of Maryland's players are doing all they can to avoid fanning the flames.

"There's a lot of negativity going on around here; a lot of people are down on us," said tight end Vernon Davis. "We're really good and we have a lot of potential. Joel and Steffy are really good players. Both of them. I'm sure both of them will be ready to play."

As urgent as the situation is - Friedgen called it a "very big game for the program and for the season" - it's also somewhat delicate. Friedgen doesn't want to shatter either quarterback's confidence.

"If I make a change too early, I may lose a guy that I never get back," Friedgen said. "Conversely, I may put a guy in who's not ready and I may never get him back."

NOTES: Maryland's offensive line is banged up pretty good. Friedgen said center Kyle Schmitt suffered a concussion Saturday and is day-to-day, while Russell Bonham injured his hamstring, C.J. Brooks sustained a pinched nerve and Brandon Nixon sprained his shoulder. Brooks is expected to play, but the other three are day-to-day.

Next for Maryland

Matchup: N.C. State (3-2, 2-1) vs. Maryland (3-2, 1-1)

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 3

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