The pass was pinpoint, the route run near-perfect. But when it came time for Isaiah Williams to haul in Jordan Steffy’s deep throw in Maryland’s season opener, the ball just slipped through his fingers.
No play symbolizes Williams’ early season frustrations more than the drop of a near-certain touchdown against Villanova, a moment the junior said was the biggest nightmare of my life and likely would have established him as a downfield complement this season for sophomore Darrius Heyward-Bey.
It is also one of the few times the Terrapins even have made a downfield attempt, an element clearly lacking three games into the season as Maryland (2-1, 0-0 ACC) prepares to visit Wake Forest (1-2, 0-1) tomorrow afternoon.
Ironing out both concerns — uncovering a deep option besides Heyward-Bey and extending the offense beyond the conservative play calling of the last three weeks — no doubt would be welcome developments as the Terps open conference play.
Williams certainly wouldn’t argue. The physically gifted junior said last month he viewed this season as his white Bronco, but instead he has remained in park with only one catch — though he is optimistic he can make good on his plan for a breakout season.
I’m hoping that’s the way it is, Williams said. In my mind, I go back to my room [and think], ‘It’s the third game. All I have is 10 yards to show for it.’ I’m like, ‘I’ve got to get me going a little bit.’
The Terps would like to get anyone going. Redshirt freshman LaQuan Williams converted to receiver in the spring and has four catches for 40 yards but just one reception in the last two games. Junior Danny Oquendo receives limited looks as the slot receiver, though he is a reliable target who caught Steffy’s first touchdown pass of the year last week.
Receivers coach Bryan Bossard believes things are not much different from this time a year ago, when Heyward-Bey had yet to emerge as a true deep threat and the production was better spread around. Maryland’s wideouts have accounted for two more receptions and one less yard than last season’s first three games.
There are changes. Tailbacks Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore have combined for 18 catches after hauling in 31 all of last season, and Steffy is more willing to check down to secondary options quickly if he doesn’t like what he sees.
I think the difference between Jordan and Sam [Hollenbach] is that if it’s not perfect, he’s off of you, Bossard said. Sam used to kind of hold it a little bit. Jordan’s not doing that. That’s a good thing because he’s not taking bad sacks. I tell our guys if you’re supposed to be at 12 yards, you’ve got to be at 12 yards. If the timing’s not right, he’s not going to throw it to you.
That’s unlikely to change soon because the near-guarantee of a pickup of a few yards remains an appealing alternative to a potential interception down the field. But it also would come as no surprise if there are a few more deep shots this week.
Coach Ralph Friedgen was critical of his own play-calling after last week’s loss and emphasized the importance of chunk plays several times this week. Steffy cautioned against impatience while acknowledging there is still room for the offense to grow.
We have nine games left and a bowl game, Steffy said. Things take time. Our offense obviously isn’t where we hope it will be in the 12th game of the season.
A consistent emergence from either of the Terps’ receiving Williamses probably would accelerate Maryland’s offensive progress. For now, the Terps have the ninth-ranked passing offense in the ACC (and 95th nationally) with 174 yards a game and only seven completions for more than 20 yards.
The early numbers aren’t glittery, but Isaiah Williams and his teammates are counting on time as their greatest ally.