After his session with reporters ended Saturday, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen couldn’t help but compliment the cushy chair provided for the press conference following the Terrapins‘ 20-17 victory at then No. 20 Clemson.
All of Friedgen’s seats probably are a little more comfortable as September segues into October, and the Terps’ coach probably owes some of his newfound comfort to junior quarterback Chris Turner.
Maryland (4-1, 1-0 ACC) is off to its best start since 2001. The Terps own a three-game winning streak for the first time with Turner at quarterback. An appearance in the national rankings could occur with a victory at Virginia on Saturday (Maryland is just outside in the Associated Press poll).
Turner’s emergence is vital. While the junior wasn’t at his best against Clemson - he completed 16 of 30 for 172 yards and a touchdown - he avoided the crushing errors that flustered Friedgen a season ago.
“Overall, he’s keeping his composure,” Friedgen said. “He’s doing what we asked him to do. In the past, he just had games where he did more wrong than he did right.”
This represents substantial progress for Turner, who reassumed control of the offense when Jordan Steffy broke a thumb in the opener. Even with Josh Portis, who took three snaps and also was on the field for a pair of false starts, lurking in a part-time role, Turner is emerging as the steady presence Friedgen was desperate to find in the preseason.
Over the last three games, Turner has completed nearly 64 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and two interceptions. For the season, Turner is 26-for-40 for 320 yards and a touchdown on third down.
“I’m feeling better,” Turner said. “I still have a lot to improve on, obviously. That said, three in a row is not bad. Hopefully, we can keep building on this.”
As Turner has grown, so have the Terps’ prospects for a memorable season. After a teamwide clunker at Middle Tennessee, Maryland is one of two teams without a conference loss in the ACC’s unpredictable Atlantic Division.
With Virginia (1-3, 0-1) scuffling badly early in the season, the Terps have an opportunity to establish themselves as a league title contender heading into an Oct. 18 home meeting with Wake Forest.
Things are rarely so easy for Maryland, and Friedgen grumbled that he was concerned about a letdown after the Terps defeated a ranked opponent for the second time in three weeks.
Some of his concern stems from a sluggish offense that, outside of wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey’s 76-yard reverse, managed 47 yards rushing on 28 carries and was uncharacteristically riddled with penalties and dropped passes.
“I don’t think we played very well offensively,” Friedgen said. “Chris got everything out of the offense that he probably could have.”
Teammates notice no substantial changes in demeanor in Turner, who started the final eight games last year before Steffy wrested the job back during camp. Yet anyone can see his increased steadiness, and it’s obvious what a consistent Turner would mean over a full season.
“Last year he wouldn’t have two straight good games,” defensive tackle Jeremy Navarre said. “Now he’s going three. He’s the key to this team, he really is. If he plays the whole year game after game [like this] … look out for us. We’re going to surprise a lot of people.”