Terps find gains with Turner’s legs

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It’s understood that Chris Turner, so long as he’s playing, will lead Maryland in passing each week.

But rushing?

With injured tailback Da’Rel Scott out until late next month, a makeshift line and a dire need to make progress, the senior is increasingly vital to the Terrapins’ running game.

“I still feel goofy. I do,” Turner said after leading Maryland with 27 rushing yards in Saturday’s 42-32 loss at Wake Forest. “But it’s something that’s working, and that’s why we stick with it.

Certainly, it’s not an ideal situation for the Terps (2-4, 1-1 ACC), who play host to Virginia (2-3, 1-0) on Saturday. In the past, the sight of Turner taking off was precipitated either by extreme pressure on the pocket or as a rare change of pace to catch opponents napping.

Not now. The quarterback draw was used frequently in the season opener at California and resurfaced as a significant call the last two weeks as the Terps struggled to edge out yards on the ground.

Excluding sacks, which are used in official rushing statistics, Turner is averaging 3.5 yards a carry. That’s better than Gary Douglas (3.2) and Davin Meggett (3.1), the Terps’ top two available tailbacks.

“I think it adds a dimension to his game,” coach Ralph Friedgen said. “Not only is Chris doing a good job of that, but I think he’s taking the runs when he can. I don’t think in the past he would do that. It’s critical that he’s doing that.”

Turner’s early-career rushing highlight reel started - and effectively ended - with a 41-yard scamper to set up a touchdown in the 2007 finale at N.C. State. He was removed for a play or two at a time last season for Josh Portis, who usually took off in an attempt to exploit his athleticism.

It wasn’t surprising. Portis was elusive and quick. Turner was a pocket passer unaccustomed to bolting into open space.

Yet with the Terps desperate for any credible rushing attack - at 96.5 yards a game, Maryland ranks 105th nationally and next-to-last in the ACC - they’re regularly calling for Turner to dive ahead for a few yards.

He had 17 carries (three sacks) against Clemson, setting up a second-quarter touchdown with a series of runs. Saturday, he had 12 actual rushes in addition to four sacks; tailbacks Meggett, Douglas and Caleb Porzel combined for 12 carries on the night.

“I’m getting a little more comfortable,” Turner said. “It’s not a natural thing for me to go out and make reads off the blockers. I just try to hold on to the ball and get the yards that I can.”

For now, it’s one of the few ways for Maryland to balance its offense. The Terps have not cracked 100 yards in any of their past three games, and their tailbacks have managed only 110 yards combined in that stretch.

Still, Turner provides something to ponder for Virginia, which held its last two opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground.

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