Receivers help Terps hold on, complete upset

UM's 333 passing yards are second-most of season

October 31, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Strangely enough, the breakout game for Maryland's maligned group of receivers started with a big gain, then an injury. Junior Danny Melendez found a soft spot in the Florida State zone down the left sideline, stopped and waited for quarterback Joel Statham's pass, then turned upfield, before drifting out of bounds with a pulled hamstring after picking up 39 yards.

But that play, besides setting up the field goal by Nick Novak that opened the scoring and sparked the Terrapins' toward their first victory over the Seminoles, set the course for Maryland's receiver corps.

Neither a sprained ankle that severely limited Derrick Fenner, nor a pulled right hamstring that knocked out Steve Suter in the first quarter - nor the loss of Melendez - would stop the Terps.

Into the void stepped wide-outs Jo Jo Walker, Rich Parson and Drew Weatherly and H-back Vernon Davis. And in the wake of Maryland's 20-17 victory at Byrd Stadium, that group shined as brightly as Statham.

The Terps figured they would have a rough time running the ball on the Seminoles, and they were right. But Maryland believed it could throw on Florida State, and that it did with 333 passing yards, its second-highest output of the year.

"I told [the receivers] I wanted them to play aggressive. I didn't want them to be happy catching it and falling down," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "We were not going to play scared. We were going to go right at them. All of our receivers were the key. They made some plays, and Joel did a great job of reading defenses."

Maryland's receivers broke off routes underneath when the Seminoles lined up in man-to-man coverage and gave cushions of 8 yards. They ran slants and quick outs and crossing patterns with precision. They bailed out Statham a few times with excellent catches. They found seams in zone coverage. They exploited mismatches over the middle. They were a huge reason the Terps converted seven of their first 14 third-down chances.

Mainly, Maryland's receivers kept getting open.

Seven different receivers caught Statham's 21 completions, which included a decisive 72-yard connection with running back Josh Allen, who turned a simple swing pass into the score that made it 20-10 three minutes into the second half.

"They gave us a lot of ground in man coverage, so we could work our routes and get into our groove," said Walker, who had four receptions for 36 yards. "The thing that helped was Joel was real accurate and hot tonight. Everything just followed like the game plan was laid out on the table."

"It was just a matter of recognizing the defense [the Seminoles] were going to be in and who they were going to be covering and who was going to be open," said Statham, who operated with short drops and quick releases. "They have such a great defensive line, we didn't call many seven-step drops. We had to get the ball out as quickly as possible."

Davis, who led Maryland with six catches for 99 yards, thrived with that approach. Several times, he burned Seminoles linebackers trying to cover him underneath. His biggest moment came on a third-and-12 in the second quarter, when Davis beat linebacker A.J. Nicholson over the middle, turned upfield, then leaped over two defenders before ending his 33-yard gain at the Florida State 2. Two plays later, Statham scored on a 1-yard run to make it 13-3.

"The thing about our backups is they are always ready to play. It was just about confidence," said Parson, who added three catches for 16 yards. "Coach Friedgen said don't worry about making mistakes, go out and have fun. You tell an old group of receivers that we're pulling out our bag of tricks. We might not run our routes to their correct depth, but we're getting it done."

Next for Terps

Matchup: Maryland (4-4, 2-3) vs. Virginia (6-1, 3-1)

Site: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.

When: Saturday, noon or 3:30

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

Yesterday: Virginia was idle.

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