Hungry 'Pack likely to get two-QB diet from Terps

UM's Statham, Steffy both on call against N.C. State

College Football

October 16, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - When Maryland's offense finally crossed the goal line last week, quarterback Jordan Steffy leaped into the air and let out a barbaric yawp. He pumped his fist, pounded his chest, and bobbed his head as he jogged toward the sidelines. For nearly 30 seconds, the crowd inside Byrd Stadium thundered with applause.

When he got off the field, the first player to congratulate him was quarterback Joel Statham, the man whom Steffy had replaced just minutes before, and the man whose starting job was suddenly a lot less secure. In his usual laid-back manner, Statham slapped Steffy on the helmet and nodded at a job well done.

What emerged from that moment could more appropriately be termed a quarterback quandary than quarterback controversy. Which style was a better fit for Maryland? Statham's superior knowledge and quiet composure? Or Steffy's youthful exuberance and demonstrable enthusiasm? Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen asked himself that question this week while preparing for today's game against North Carolina State, and came up with an interesting answer. Maybe it was possible for the Terps (3-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) to utilize both. That's why he decided to stick with Statham as his starter this week, even after the sophomore played poorly in a 20-7 loss to Georgia Tech. But he also said he'll likely give Steffy some opportunities, regardless of how Statham is playing.

"One advantage that Jordan has is his personality," Friedgen said. "I can't ask Joel to be something he's not. Although, Scott [McBrien] used to be a lot like that, and Scott got to be fired up [later in his career]. I don't know if that will happen with Joel. I hope it does. I think his demeanor affects the huddle quite a bit."

Not all leadership, though, is worn on your sleeve. Friedgen told a story this week about a team meeting where he asked individuals to assess their own performance in front of everyone. Had they gotten better since the start of the season? When Friedgen got to Statham, the sophomore gave a simple, humble answer: I'm a better player, but I still have to eliminate my mistakes.

"There were guys in the room that clapped for him, unsolicited," Friedgen said. "That told me that there were guys pulling for him to do well. It's just not a black-and-white issue. I can't cut these guys. I can't pick up another guy off the street. This is it. I'm not giving up on a kid after four games."

Whether it's Statham or Steffy, one of Maryland's quarterbacks needs to be productive today if Maryland is going to win its fifth straight game against N.C. State. In recent years, the rivalry between the two schools has evolved from friendly to bitter, with the Terps repeatedly getting the better of the Wolfpack in the final seconds four years in a row.

"I know they are still bitter," Friedgen said. "They want us very badly this year."

Last season, N.C. State was upset with Friedgen prior to the game because Maryland wouldn't cut its pre-game warm-up short. The school wanted to clear the field to set up a ceremony for quarterback Philip Rivers, who was playing his final home game, but Friedgen says no one informed him the tribute was going to take place. Several Terps players also felt the Wolfpack were showing them up by retiring Rivers' number prior to the game.

When Maryland escaped Raleigh with a 26-24 victory on a last-second field goal, N.C. State fans showered the field with plastic bottles, and some Terps players responded by throwing the bottles back into the stands. The two teams also had to be separated when several fights nearly broke out as the final seconds ticked down.

"I think it was maybe a loss of self control on both sides," said N.C. State coach Chuck Amato. "It was an emotional game for them as well as for us, and regardless of the way we lost, we have to be men enough to go over and shake somebody's hand."

Amato even joked about paying tribute to Rivers a bit prematurely.

"Maybe I should ask Ralph to retire somebody's jersey before the game," said Amato, who also had to answer questions about his quarterback play this year until junior Jay Davis emerged recently by playing two strong games.

Even if you look past Maryland's quarterback issues and N.C. State's hunger for revenge, the game has major implications for both programs. The loser essentially eliminates itself from ACC title consideration, and might miss the postseason altogether. The ACC may have added two teams this year, but the conference still has only six postseason bowl tie-ins. Teams need six wins to be eligible for those bowls. Maryland still has Florida State, Virginia and Virginia Tech on its schedule, while N.C. State still has to play Miami, Georgia Tech and Florida State.

"Some of the seniors, we know this is our last go," said running back Sam Maldonado, who leads Maryland with five rushing touchdowns. "After this, maybe you play at the next level, and maybe you have nothing. We've got to get going, get focused and play like this is it."

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