Chris Turner’s despondence upon committing four turnovers a week ago was evident after Maryland’s 34-13 loss to Rutgers. The quarterback answered what needed to be answered for, spent the rest of the weekend with his family and looked ahead to the blank slate that the start of conference play provides.
Nothing will wipe away the Terrapins’ 1-3 start or their minus-10 turnover margin. They have little choice but to think about improvement rather than dwelling on a miserable start.
“Right now, I feel like I have a little bit more to prove,” said Turner, whose team hosts Clemson (2-2, 1-1 ACC) on Saturday at Byrd Stadium. “It was kind of unlike me.”
In a way, Turner is a reflection of all around him. He was an opening week starter for the first time in his career, and coach Ralph Friedgen figured he would be a stabilizing force for a roster littered with guys who this season would see their first extended action.
Turner completed nonconference play with 971 passing yards, four touchdowns, five interceptions and a 60.3 completion percentage. He’s on pace for the third-most yards in school history - and more than 20 turnovers.
But peel back those numbers and consider the 14 sacks and numerous other hits he has absorbed. He has taken all but nine of Maryland’s snaps, collecting a beating that leaves him taped up with ice packs after games.
“Chris is a tough kid,” Friedgen said. “He don’t look tough - California boy and everything. But I’ve seen him take some shots and hang in there. I have a lot of faith in that kid.”
Perhaps it’s simply a pragmatic approach considering the Terps do not have an established option behind Turner. But there’s also Turner’s history of shaking off lousy outings and summoning his best games when Maryland most needs them.
That’s certainly the case now. A loss to Clemson would give the Terps their worst start since dropping their first six in 1993. A victory would reinvigorate a team scuffling more because of self-inflicted mistakes than a discernible lack of ability in most places.
The same holds for Turner, whom Friedgen this week described as growing “skittish” at times in the face of constant pressure. Offensive coordinator James Franklin considered Turner’s unconscious adjustments natural, the sort of survival instinct anyone would turn to in such circumstances. Helping the senior get past that - or fixing the offense’s problems in general - would go a long way.
“That’s where he has to believe in it and trust in it and I have to continue to get him to focus on those fundamentals and the skills we work every day,” Franklin said. “I told the offense the other day when we’re watching as a group, I said, ‘When this guy has protection, he’s as good as anybody. He’s as good as anybody in this league.’ That’s part of the issue.”
The line is but part of Maryland’s offensive problem. Running backs are forced to remain in pass protection for longer, eliminating obvious dump-off options. Receivers can’t always get open with little time to work with. And Turner admits he has made some bad decisions as well.
“A lot of people put the blame on him, and it’s not Chris’ fault,” fullback Cory Jackson said. “There’s a lot of people that are contributing to these losses. It’s one slip-up here and one slip-up there, and it can be five guys on five different plays that result in five turnovers. It doesn’t necessarily mean everybody’s messing up or that we’re a bad team. It’s just that guys have to be sharper mentally.”
Friedgen was concerned enough to bring Turner into his office Wednesday. He stressed that Turner couldn’t be worried about whether certain players would hold up and that he must get back to reading progressions rather than picking out receivers.
A few hours later, Friedgen said, Turner completed 89 percent of his passes in a practice session.