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Wednesday morning mailbag

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Got a great, great, great question from loyal reader Netto last night. Thought about answering it in the wee hours of the morning, but realized it would look sort of lame to be working at 1:30 a.m.

Anyway, he brings up the topic of the option, which has worked fine enough to get both Georgia Tech and Navy within a victory of bowl eligibility. But at Maryland? Not really much of a factor of late.

Let’s get to the question before I steal too much Black Thunder (an incredible reference Netto made to the ill-fated goal-line formation of the Mark Duffner years):

Why is the option no longer an option? It died away around the time of Statham and Hollenbach because of problems with their mobility and accuracy with pitches. It seems as though Turner (as evidenced by the run against N.C. State last year) and Portis would have enough ability to run it (especially Portis). Is it that it’s just not part of Franklin’s scheme, or did Coach Friedgen give up on it?

There’s probably about a half-dozen reasons, some tied into bigger-picture option concerns and some focused solely on Maryland. Let’s roll through a few:

* Injuries. The best explanation of why the option died out across college football (besides Miami tearing Oklahoma asunder in the mid-to-late 1980s and everyone overreacting and assuming every defense was as fast and strong as the Hurricanes’) is the damage done to quarterbacks running it. As scholarship limits became smaller and smaller – now down to 85 – it became more difficult to hoard quarterbacks who would just slide into the system when another guy got hurt.

Limiting the use of the option makes tons of sense at a place like Maryland, where there have been serious questions about the viability of the No. 2 quarterback for seemingly forever. Running the option would seem to invite trouble in that regard.

* Different offense. An offense of quick reads for running backs and short passes for quarterbacks relies on rapid decision-making, not slow-developing plays. As an occasional change of pace, it makes sense. But it isn’t a great fit with a lot of the other stuff Maryland runs.

* The offensive line. As Georgia Tech is discovering this year, it takes a different sort of lineman to make the option really work the way it’s supposed to. The big, rugged blockers Maryland has should fit what the Terps are trying to do now. But making them run from side to side in anticipating of a pitch, over and over and over? Here’s guessing that wouldn’t end well.

* Predictability. This is a problem especially for the Josh Portis argument. You could put him in and have him run option sweeps all day, but people will figure that one out pretty quickly. Of course, it’s not like Portis has the element of surprise on his side when he enters a game now; chances are, he’s taking off.

I sort of thought the elusive “Portis Package” had a good chance to be strongly influenced by the option, so maybe that’s where it could pop up down the road.

In sum: It would be intriguing to see Maryland try to use a little more option, much as it did when Shaun Hill and Scott McBrien were under center. But several factors make it difficult to believe the Terps will rely on it much any time soon.

Patrick Stevens

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