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Walking a thin line

Steffy must straddle between aggressive play, preservation

September 06, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland football team was already walking a tightrope when the season started.

The Terrapins were trying to balance the strengths of returning skill players with the talents of unproven quarterback Jordan Steffy. Last week's first performance was successful in a 31-14 win over Villanova.

But now, the Terps' high-wire act gets a tad more difficult. Maryland is now working without a net.

The Terps anticipated for Steffy to share time behind center with Josh Portis, a player coach Ralph Friedgen planned to look to in certain situations because of his explosive play-making ability.

That all ended before it started, though, when Portis was ruled academically ineligible for the season before last Saturday's game. The announcement caused some shockwaves as it left Maryland wafer-thin at quarterback, with Friedgen admitting he told the offense that it needed to do its best to protect Steffy.

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But after a weekend worth of reflection, Friedgen decided to follow a gut feeling. He decided to roll the dice with Steffy.

"We've got to use everything we've got," Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly media conference. "I'm just going to say a prayer and play hard. I don't know how else to do it. Every time in my life I play cautious, it backfires. Let's go and see what happens."

In essence, Friedgen has decided to let Steffy carry Maryland as far as possible. The only backup is Chris Turner, who got his first game experience when Steffy came down with cramps against Villanova.

Maryland's fortunes are now at the mercy of fate, but at least Steffy is comfortable with the task ahead.

"In a sense, maybe (I'll be more careful)," he said. "But once I'm out there, I can't. The bottom line is the I'm out to win games. I can make reads and try to control the clock but I want to win."

Steffy showed his desire against Villanova with a creditable performance. He went 19 of 24 passing and ran for a touchdown in his starting debut, which included a scare when he went down in the third quarter with cramps, giving Turner his first taste of action as the backup.

Now, Turner is getting express-lane treatment to get ready in case anything does happen to Steffy.

"Josh and Chris were sharing reps," Friedgen said. "He will get all of Josh's reps now and his workload is going to double. We will start working Jamarr (Robinson, a freshman) in there as well, but I would still like to redshirt him if I can. We're going to try and work Chris in there during the scrimmages on Thursday to get some actual work at running our offense."

Portis admitted he cheated on a pop quiz during spring semester in a published story Tuesday by The Diamondback, Maryland's student newspaper, which caused the university's Student Honor Council to revoke his eligibility.

According to the report, the council can rule to discipline students on acts or attempts of academic dishonesty by any of four violations - cheating, fabrication, facilitating academic dishonesty and plagiarism - outlined in the Code of Academic Integrity, which appears on the council's Web site.

Portis said he isn't planning to transfer and will serve his punishment while preparing for the 2008 season.

The incident drastically changes Maryland's approach to the 2007 season. Friedgen, who is partial to option wrinkles in the offense, had been contemplating adding more diversity because of Steffy's and Portis' mobility.

After Portis' suspension, Friedgen had second thoughts. Now, he plans to go with the flow.

"I think we still need to be aggressive and just go out there and do it," Friedgen said. "(Steffy) wants to do it. He keeps telling me, 'Get me involved. You should let me run.' I have never had anyone tell me what to do before, even in the pros."

Steffy refuses to add caution to his playbook.

"I'm going to go out there to play and compete," he said. "Whatever happens, happens."

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