Terps in command

Maryland runs an offense that is mixed up but not confused

Maryland Notebook

October 05, 2005|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

College Park -- Less than two months ago, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen was fretting over whether he was force-feeding too much of his complicated offense into the minds of his young players.

Now, midway through the season and after a breakout offensive performance in a 45-33 upset of Virginia, the Terps have given him a little more to work with.

Maryland's coaching staff has three fullbacks with different strengths to choose from, four different receivers with at least 14 catches each, and a quarterback who can run the triple option out of a shotgun formation. They have three running backs - two of whom have had games of at least 100 yards - and a tight end with more receiving yards than anyone in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Together they make for the most unpredictable, balanced offense that the Terps have showcased in nearly a year. Much of that can be attributed to a newfound consistency at quarterback, repetition of plays out of different formations and the establishment of a running game.

"We've evaluated what our strengths are, and we're starting to find our niche and our personality," offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said. "When you have a lot of new guys playing for the first time, you don't really know what that is until you start playing."

It wasn't until last weekend, though, against the No. 19-ranked team in the country, that Maryland's offense - all of it - decided to show up.

"It was make or break," said running back Lance Ball, who led the Terps in rushing with a career-high 163 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. "If we lost the game, Coach said that would've been the downfall, basically, of our season."

Instead, Maryland racked up 570 yards of total offense and moved within three wins of a bowl appearance. Much of Maryland's flexibility can be attributed to quarterback Sam Hollenbach's ability to run out of the shotgun. It's a play the team used to run frequently with Scott McBrien in 2003, but wasn't executed well in last year's 5-6 season

Hollenbach rushed for a career-high 45 yards against Wake Forest. He carried the ball seven times against Virginia, the fifth-best rushing defense in the ACC, and finished with 23 yards. His 13-yard run at the end of the third quarter sustained a touchdown drive.

"Sam's not a great runner by any stretch of the imagination, but he reads well, he makes good decisions, and if they don't defend him, he's a guy who's capable of moving the chains," Taaffe said.

Lately, defenses also have to be concerned about Maryland's running game. In back-to-back wins, the Terps were able to earn over 100 yards rushing and over 100 yards passing.

Those numbers coincide with the arrival of freshman Jared Gaither to the offensive line. Gaither was the intended replacement for left tackle Stephon Heyer, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament this summer, but while he was learning the offense, tight end Derek Miller was plugging the hole.

"I wouldn't say I'm the missing puzzle piece," Gaither said. "We were in need of a tackle and I stepped in. They're depending on me, and I'm depending on them also, for support. It's a mutual thing."

Gaither helped pave the way for Ball's career performance against Virginia, but Friedgen has made it clear that Keon Lattimore or Mario Merrills could also earn the starting nod on any given week.

"We've got some good players," said senior receiver Danny Melendez, who grabbed a career-high nine receptions for 125 yards last Saturday against Virginia. "When you're executing, it's that much tougher for a defensive coordinator to figure out how to stop us."

Notes -- Obi Egekeze, who was cleared to play last week after injuring his hamstring this summer, might not make the trip to Temple this weekend if he's not kicking to his ability ... Friedgen said the team voted senior receiver Jo Jo Walker and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson permanent captains. heather.

dinich@baltsun.com

Maryland@Temple Saturday, 1 p.m., 1300 AM, 105.7 FM Line: Maryland by 28 1/2

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