Terps, QB on the same page

Hollenbach entered Va. Tech game in 2004 as an afterthought

now, he is the lead man

October 20, 2005|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

COLLEGE PARK -- Joel Statham did it three times, Jordan Steffy once. The only Maryland quarterback who played and didn't throw an interception against Virginia Tech last fall was the Terps' last resort, who, until then, hadn't made a single play in college football.

As Maryland attempts to redeem itself tonight from that embarrassing 55-6 loss to the Hokies, the same quarterback who came in as a last resort is now the starter the host Terps (4-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) are hoping can guide them to an upset against No. 3 Virginia Tech (6-0, 3-0).

Junior Sam Hollenbach has emerged as the ACC's leader in total yardage and is probably the biggest difference in Maryland's offense since the last time these teams met. In six games, Hollenbach has given the coaching staff the one thing it was craving for almost a year - consistency.

"We hoped he'd be able to manage the offense, make good decisions and give the guys around him a chance to be successful," said offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe. "He's been a difference-maker in our offense. I didn't know if he could be that coming into the season and he's proven me wrong and exceeded what I expected. That's great. His play has been outstanding."

Hollenbach is ranked among the top 30 quarterbacks in Division I-A football. He leads the ACC with an average of 264 yards a game, and has completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 1,513 yards and seven touchdowns. The only quarterback in the league with a better passing efficiency is Virginia Tech's Marcus Vick.

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen attributed part of Hollenbach's newfound success to his work with Taaffe, who adjusted Hollenbach's release from over his head to over his shoulder.

"I never could change a guy's release," Friedgen said. " ... He's quickened and gets the ball out a lot faster now."

Still, Friedgen said there's room for improvement, and Hollenbach's seven interceptions this season are proof.

"I really think he has a chance to be a lot better," Friedgen said. "I don't think he's even come close to reaching his potential yet."

He hasn't really had time.

Before this season, Hollenbach had played in four games and thrown the ball just 36 times - numbers that prompted him to consider transferring. It wasn't until Maryland's debacle against Virginia Tech last year that Hollenbach got an opportunity.

After four first-half turnovers, Friedgen turned to Hollenbach to end the game as gracefully as possible. He completed five of eight passes for 53 yards, and in the process, earned the starting nod for the season finale against Wake Forest. In the week preceding the game, Friedgen said Hollenbach regressed.

"Monday night he looked great," Friedgen said. "By Thursday, he was terrible."

On Friday, Friedgen had a talk with his new quarterback.

"[I] said, `You don't have to win this game. What you have to do is not lose it.' "

Hollenbach went 7-for-10 in the opening quarter, sparking Maryland to a 7-0 lead. The Terps escaped with a 13-7 win.

"That's when I got really impressed with him," Friedgen said. "He also showed me he paid attention in meetings. He was in all the meetings for two years. From a mental standpoint, he knew what to do."

Hollenbach said he is still learning the hundreds of plays crammed into the thick red binders on the shelf behind Friedgen's desk. Taaffe said there are more than 100 possible combinations Hollenbach has to be prepared for each game. And there's no question the Terps were tweaking the offense this week for tonight's game.

"We're dealing with an offense that is very complex," Hollenbach said. "It's a good offense, it's a very proven offense, but it also requires everybody on the field to really be on the same page mentally and to execute. You can get into a situation where you might be thinking too much, or you're not exactly sure on the look defensively. We have a lot of different variations in our offense. If not everybody is on the same page, it can really throw everything off."

Despite his success, Hollenbach has yet to face a defense the caliber of Virginia Tech. The Hokies are ranked No. 2 in the nation in total defense (235.5 yards per game) and No. 1 in scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of nine points a game.

"We're playing somebody that's on such a high level, we get to see where we're at against one of the nation's top teams," he said. "We can rate ourselves against that and see just how good we are."

In addition to studying the playbook, Hollenbach also was cramming for his midterms during the bye week. He is majoring in mechanical engineering. When it comes to football, though, Friedgen said this could be his toughest test of the season.

"He's improved, but he's never played in a game when a lot is on the line of this magnitude," Friedgen said. "I think he's a little nervous. I haven't seen him as sharp as he was before the break, but he's also had a lot to learn."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

TONIGHT'S GAME

Virginia Tech (6-0, 3-0) @Maryland (4-2, 2-1)

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