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Statham stays as Terps' starter ... for now

October 13, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - University of Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen went on the offense Tuesday.

He can only hope his Terrapins will do the same on Saturday.

After a weekend where the Terps turned in their worst performance in Friedgen's three-plus years at the helm, the coach was stern, strapped in and ready for action. There is one question that he has been asked constantly since the lethargic 20-7 loss to Georgia Tech and it was the obvious first question of his weekly media conference on Tuesday.

"Who will be the starting quarterback this weekend against North Carolina State - Joel Statham or Jordan Steffy?

Friedgen, who was less than his usual jovial self for this meeting, didn't stop to measure his answer.

"Here's the thing ... We are not the Redskins," Friedgen said. "I'm dealing with an 18-year-old kid and a 20-year-old kid. I think both of them are going to be very good quarterbacks. I think they are in the developmental stage at the position. We will open it up more to competition, but when I feel a change is necessary, I'll make it. If I don't feel it's necessary, I might not. It will be a day-to-day thing."

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Despite the opening salvo, it was far from a ringing endorsement for Statham, who was named the starter the minute Scott McBrien's eligibility ran out. The sophomore sturggled in the spring game, but made enough of an impression on Friedgen to earn the starting nod for the season.

The transition to starter hasn't been a fluid one for Statham, though.

Despite leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in total offense heading into last Saturday's game, Statham hasn't distinguished himself as the man for the job. He was lifted midway through the third quarter after throwing for just 36 yards and fumbling a final snap under a cascade of boos from the crowd at Byrd Stadium.

"I looked at the tape (of the game) and if I thought that it was all him, I would have done something," Friedgen said. "Everyone had a hand in it. When things go wrong, it always falls back on the quarterback, just like they get too much praise when things go well."

"Joel knows I'm there for him," Friedgen said. "I'd like to see Joel get fired up and get some competitiveness going and show the confidence he has, not only in himself, but in this team."

Still, introducing Steffy into the mix not only brings out the competition aspect to the situation - which only fuels the perceived quarterback controversy - but Friedgen hopes it will produce improvement in both players.

"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. As he grows, it's going to be very competitive. You all know I'm selfish. I am hoping to come out of this with two good quarterbacks who will be around for a couple of years."

Steffy entered the game with 6:17 left in the third quarter and engineered Maryland's lone scoring drive. But in the long run, he managed to pass for just 38 yards and accounted for a minus-34 yards rushing.

Maryland recorded 81 yards of total offense in the game. Statham provided 68 yards while Steffy amassed 13.

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

Friedgen went on to blame coaching as a factor in the loss along with a number of other breakdowns to deflect the criticism of the quarterbacks. He added that the situation is also good for newspaper sales and television ratings.

"Obviously, I would like not to have a quarterback controversy," Friedgen said. "But you (media) guys, you love to write about this stuff. I'll know what to do when the time comes, trust me. You can have an opinion, but it doesn't matter. I make the decisions."

Friedgen tried to put the first major controversy in his tenure at Maryland to rest one final time, using his track record as the selling point.

"You have to trust my experience of having 36 years of doing this," he said. "I know what I am doing and if there is anything any different, I'll let you know. My staff and I will make that decision, and no one else. I think our decisions in the past have worked out pretty well."

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