- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Quarterback Jordan Steffy sported a bruise on his nose after Thursday’s 31-14 loss to West Virginia, a vivid reminder of the company he kept in the backfield during Maryland’s first loss of the season.

He was sacked five times and drilled even more, a pounding few players can take over the course of a full season. So as the Terrapins (2-1, 0-0 ACC) regroup for Saturday’s visit to defending conference champion Wake Forest (1-2, 0-1), one priority is obvious.

Protect the quarterback at all costs, especially after Steffy was sacked nine times in the last two games — Maryland’s shakiest stretch since allowing 11 sacks in the final two outings of the 2005 season.

“It definitely has to be one of our focuses,” guard Jaimie Thomas said. “He’s one of our few guys that we have left back there with Josh [Portis] being out this season, so we have to keep him clean at all times. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to keep his jersey clean.”

It sounds like a basic plan, but several variables led to Steffy’s frequent sojourns to the sod. There is the occasional missed assignment on the line, which is always the simplest explanation. A missed blitz pickup by a running back also created danger for Steffy.

Another concern was the inability for receivers to get open. The Terps’ wideouts faced more pressing than Friedgen anticipated against West Virginia, though it would be no surprise if they see more of it in the future.

With the receivers occupied, it left Steffy to contend with a shrinking pocket all too often.

“We gave up a lot of coverage sacks,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “They covered us, and we have to get some people open and open on time to throw it. We also had some problems with our technique and our assignments, not only on pickup and depth of routes and reads. We have to start doing the little things and be more precise in what we’re doing.”

Some of that would come with getting more receivers involved, notably the rotation of Isaiah Williams and LaQuan Williams. They combined for two catches for 10 yards in the last two games, leaving Maryland without a deep threat to complement sophomore Darrius Heyward-Bey.

There is a further trickle-down effect. The Terps have managed only eight plays of more than 20 yards in their first three games, making the 10 sacks taken (which are tied with Virginia Tech for most in the ACC) even more damaging.

“It gets us behind schedule, and then we don’t have the capabilities to catch up,” said Friedgen, whose team is 2-for-13 (15.4 percent) in third-down situations with more than 10 yards to go. I think we need to have more big plays in our offense. We do pretty good, 6-, 7-, 8-yard gains, and then we get a penalty or a sack, and we can’t recover from it. That’s what sets us back.”

Those worries could lead to a much-anticipated opening of the offense against Wake Forest. Friedgen questioned some of his own play-calling after Thursday’s loss, and tight end Dan Gronkowski said Friedgen told the team he would try to get the ball to get the ball to playmakers like Heyward-Bey, who was targeted just four times last week.

Of course, more attempts downfield — and help from several potential targets — could alleviate some of the problems Steffy faced the last two weeks.

“It’s definitely a concern,” Gronkowski said. “We have to get the pressure off of him. He’s been getting hit a lot and been getting hit hard. The receivers have to work at getting off the press, and the linemen have to keep working on their responsibilities.”

If that all happens, Thomas’ dream scenario would come true. He believes an ideal game would leave Steffy’s uniform so spotless it wouldn’t look like it needs to get tossed in the laundry after the game.

“If the only grass stains he has are from running and sliding and things like that, those are the ones we can deal with,” Thomas said. “When he’s taking hits he’s not supposed to, that’s our job.”

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