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Maryland developing ‘1-2 punch’

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Keon Lattimore was minutes removed from his best rushing day, an outing that even included his career-long run.

Was he happy? Sure. Thrilled to be a part of Maryland's 28-26 victory over Virginia? Absolutely.

Tired? No way.

"After the game, I'm thinking, 'Man, I'm still fresh. I wish I would have gotten more carries,'" Lattimore recalled yesterday of his 15-carry, 114-yard effort.

Instead, he's part of a timeshare with fellow junior Lance Ball that is structured a bit better than a typical tailback committee but is unlikely to lead to one player hoarding the carries at any point this season.

The Terrapins' last two games provide a perfect glimpse into coach Ralph Friedgen's plan to split time in the backfield. Ball started both games and played for Maryland's first two possessions before yielding to Lattimore for the Terps' next two drives.

From there, Maryland simply went with the more productive back. Lattimore was limited to 2 yards on five carries at Georgia Tech on Oct. 7, and didn't touch the ball the rest as the game as Ball piled up 116 yards. Both produced similarly in the first half Saturday and continued to share carries after the break.

"When you get the opportunity, you have to make the best of it," Lattimore said. "If he gets hot, they're going to go with him, and if I get hot [they'll go with me]. That's the thing. It keeps us competing and makes both of us hungry because whoever gets hot first, that's probably the back they'll go with."

The greatest benefit for Maryland is the ability to keep a rested back on the field at all times. Friedgen has professed his belief in the Terps' top four backs since the start of camp, repeating it on a seemingly weekly basis.

Yet with Ball (468 yards) and Lattimore (371 yards) thriving in the first half, there haven't been many carries for Josh Allen (20 rushes) and J.P. Humber (one carry). Still, the two seniors receive a share of the work during the week, which maintains depth and also limits the hits Ball and Lattimore receive during practice.

"I'm trying to keep us all fresh. We're going into a pretty big grind here the next six weeks. ...," Friedgen said. "All four running backs get reps in practice, so even in practice they're not getting overworked."

One of the supposed payoffs of splitting time between Ball and Lattimore figured to be the prospect of some big plays against an increasingly weary defense. However, Maryland sprung only two runs for more than 24 yards in its first five games.

The Terps doubled the total Saturday, including Ball's 26-yarder late in the fourth quarter that permitted Maryland to run out the clock. Lattimore also delivered an eye-opening play, shaking off two tacklers near the line before scampering 56 yards for a go-ahead touchdown that displayed a big-play ability Friedgen would like to see again.

"That would give our team tremendous help," Friedgen said. "That didn't go unnoticed. If he can do that more, he'll definitely start getting more playing time."

The Terps, though, likely will maintain the current system for the rest of the season. And while both Ball and Lattimore prepare each week to handle 25 or more carries, both have found a spot in a balanced backfield.

"We've been talking about being a 1-2 punch since my freshman year," Lattimore said. "We've been talking about getting our opportunity and when we get it what we would do with it. It's all coming true."

Note -- Defensive end Barrod Heggs, who started Oct. 7 at Georgia Tech before sitting out Saturday's game for a violation of team rules, might not return this week. "His status is the same," Friedgen said without offering any other details.