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Maryland needs passing fancy for fancy passing

September 27, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland passing game is up in the air.

The problem is the only thing the Terps are throwing successfully is their collective hands in frustration.

Maryland planned to count on the passing game to loosen up defenses to help the running game. Instead, the pass is the option coach Ralph Friedgen is taking when it comes to deciding to throw.

"I did (choose not to call passing plays) on Saturday," Friedgen said Tuesday during his weekly media conference. "I think the strength of the team is running the ball. We have to stay on schedule. Once we get out of our schedule, we are in trouble."

Maryland is in a lot of trouble when it comes to throwing the ball.

The Terps are rated 12th in the Atlantic Coast Conference in passing at 159.2 yards per game with just one touchdown and six interceptions in four games. It hasn't been enough to help the running game, which is third in the league at 161.2 yards per game.

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The problem isn't just one thing. It's everything.

"That's not just all on the offensive line. It's about running the routes, throwing the ball on time, assignments," Friedgen said. "It's a multifaceted problem we're trying to solve."

The focal point is Jordan Steffy, just because he's the quarterback. But in reality, it is a combination of factors that prevents the Terps from being efficient.

First, it's Steffy's inexperience as a starter. Then, it's Maryland's inability to get open in time for Steffy to throw the ball. And finally, because receivers aren't open and Steffy is holding the ball longer, the protection breaks down to give the Terps the worst possible of situations.

Steffy is getting sacked for big losses, which makes Friedgen turn to the back pages of the playbook to find anything to work on offense.

Steffy struggled in his fourth start at Wake Forest, throwing for just 115 yards, capped by a 100-yard interception return at the end of the third quarter that turned the game around. It started the Demon Deacons on a run of 28 straight points to pull out a 31-24 victory in overtime.

"Jordan was upset after the game," Friedgen said. "I told him this comes with the territory of being a quarterback. There are times in the game when he is going on instincts. I'm not disappointed to the point where I'm going to change quarterbacks."

So then, it comes down to a process of working out the kinks.

One of the knots for the Terps has come from the receivers running their routes shorter than designed. Just a yard or two less than required is throwing off the timing of the play and causing incompletions.

"In some situations, we aren't getting as many yards as planned," said Maryland receiver Danny Oquendo. "We have to run our routes perfectly to allow (Steffy) the chance to get us the ball and the ability to check down to get the ball to the running backs if needed."

Steffy has shown a great ability to go down his list of options to find a receiver. In many cases, those passes are safety releases to receivers out of the backfield to prevent losses as opposed to the downfield receivers. At times, he seems to leave the main receivers too early to prevent losses.

"(First-year starting quarterbacks) seem so worried about not turning the ball over," said Maryland running back Keon Lattimore, who has seen three first-time starters in Joel Statham, Sam Hollenbach and now Steffy in his stay with the Terps. "There is a lot of pressure to play the position, and there are a lot of little things he has to do. The big thing, though, is he is worried about not messing up. Things get better with experience."

While Steffy looks for the right receiver, that adds extra time for the offensive line to block. And the more time, the more breakdowns. And the more breakdowns put Maryland's offense in long yardage situations.

"We have to stop being sacked," Friedgen said. "We are having trouble with personnel ... I don't know. Last year, we allowed 19 sacks the whole season. We already have 16 this year. It's not all the offensive line's fault. It's about running routes and throwing the ball on time. We end up with third-and-10s and third-and-12s because we are getting sacked in the early downs. You keep getting them, and you aren't going to convert many."

Maryland had 13 plays against Wake Forest when it was forced to go for more than 10 yards for a first down, seven coming on third down or later.

"The thing with us is there's always that one person breaking down on the play," Oquendo said. "The offense is different from the defense. You need all 11 people to be perfect in the play in order for it to work. So, I think it's more of that than anything."

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